Wednesday, February 20, 2013


CountyKate comments on the winter in Ontario

It is said that we have forty words for snow.

Actually it is the Inuit people that have forty words for snow. I suspect we all have our own vocabulary of words for snow, many will be of Anglo=Saxon origin, others will be swear words!

I am reading today, mid-February, that England can expect another month of ;Arctic' weather: here in Ontario snow and ice may not let up until April. We have a generous layer on the ground, about 35 cms, the accumulation of two separate snowstorms, and though today's temperature is 'warm' at about plus 1 Celsius, it wom't ,eam am overnight melting, causing floods and overflowing rivers.

There are several different types of snowfalls, or storms. Our first, two weeks ago, was like fairytale snow, or a Christmas card portrayal.

Falling straight down to earth, with no hint of wind to direct its course,  the fat, feathery flakes accumulated on every branch and twig. Every roof line was mimicked by the snow; every modern convenience - car, tractor or bus wore a conical hat and my birdfeeders looked like a forest of gnomes

The bird population battled on with our help as we scattered handfuls of seeds and peanuts, clearing off the bird tabl each time. The snow was so deep that small birds landed and promptly disappeared up to their heads. It continued for 12 hours and next day it ws a wonderland. Photographers were ecstatic at the opportunities - snow plough drivers less so.

Then a week later, another snowfall but this was windblown, icy little droplets coating hair and face.

Warm clothing required in this weather!

The final accumulation was another 25 cms; my husband and his brother spent two hours clearing the driveway and paths - we have a long drive and needed the access.

I used to drive a school bus and snowy weather was always a challenge.. Sometimes the school board would declare a 'Snow Day' - schools would be closed and buses did not run. I went out on my rural route once after a Snow Day  taking the roads carefully, confident the council would have cleared the route I usually took, some of which involved farmers' access roads. In brilliant sunshine, I topped a rise and before me was another school nus, broadside across the road.

No way forward and I couldn't reverse back. My passengers, high school students, realised we could be there for a while so began calling parents on their mobiles to bring coffee, warmer clothing or even a lift home. They gradually dispersed as parents turned up until the relief bus appeared. As one the remaining kids exited the bus by the side passenger door, leaving me, a slightly bulky lady,  to jump into the snow banks. Which I did, but my ankle turned over and I fell on hands and knees, Nothing for it but to crawl around the bus looking for leverage.

Next day, equally beautiful but the roads had icy ruts now, which my bus decided to follow. Cursing, struggling with the wheel, I stopped the bus, leaning over, with a good crunch as we came to rest in a ditch. The passenger door was blocked, so with the usual phone calls made the kids left en masse via the emergency door at the rear of the bus. At least four feet from the ground, I needed a friendly hand but none available, I jumped and slithered, landing on my bum. Stuck I contemplated grizzling, but the snow plough driver appeared and hauled me up.

Pioneers arriving on the County back in the early days of colonisation had their own priorities. If they arrived while it was still summer or spring, logs had to be cut at once to make a log cabin, probably not much bigger than our modern garden sheds.Moss would be stuffed into the chinks between the logs, a fire hearth built, and possibly there would have been no windows to begin with as they would have been the source of icy drafts in winter. A flail, a tool similar to a scythe, was actually provided by the government who of course encouraged settlers, to cut down scrub which would provide bedding if soft enough. such as heather. A common roofing material was sods of grass, dense and waterproof.

A fire was started and never allowed to go out. Fire was essential to staying alive in winter, providing heat against the incredible cold. Next to be built would be shelter for the livestock, a small barn or lean-to,Then supplies would have to be accumulated; some items would be brought with the settlers from their village or hamlet, others were acquired by bartering or working on the land to raise crops.
Pioneers had a very very hard life. Necessity was definitely the mother of invention. There are several excellent books written by pioneer women about their way of life. One, Susannah Moodie, wrote of being confined to her cabin for seven months while autumn moved slowly through the winter to April, when a thaw might be expected and some relief from the cold. During those months she never saw the sky let alone the sun. The massive tree growth surrounding her clearing was so dense.

 We survive - we have to!

Some more photos of our winter:

As you can see, agriculture comes to a grinding halt in a County winter

Monday, February 4, 2013


Just over a year ago I was writing about winter in Corfu, and here I am doing the same thing again. Like last year, the weather has suddenly turned really cold and my grandson Alexis actually asked his mum to let him wear hat, scarf and gloves to go out – unheard of from a small boy who usually displays blissful disdain for the cold.

It is often cold and windy here in Corfu in winter, but I rarely feel the need to wear gloves. During the first few winters that I lived here, I never even wore a coat – a warm jacket perhaps, but not an actual coat. A friend contemplating a move to Corfu asked me then about what clothes to bring and I told him to leave his sheepskin coat in the UK but after a few days he was trying to get it shipped out. Maybe my blood has thinned with the years of living in a climate that can give us temperatures above 40 C, or perhaps advancing years have robbed me of that imperviousness to the cold – anyway, my most recent purchase was a purple sheepskin coat!
Yes, my dears, purple. The favourite colour of older ladies who wear it so well.

 I don’t suppose the county set would approve of purple sheepskin. It’s a bit, well hippyish, you know. I dare not show it to my friend P… who has a wardrobe full of designer clothes from the Sixties that she no longer has any occasion to wear (in Corfu) but who trots out the  Jean Muir for Christmas and wears Ferragamo for gardening. I have never been a clothes snob and in my old age feel free to break the fashion rules whenever I like. There is something so regal about purple and yet so ever-so-slightly daring. Suits me to a T.

Sixth January last year saw us driving north to the great crescent beach of Avlaki, where the breakers rolled in before a strong northerly wind and the snow on the mountains of Albania tried, and failed, to glitter beneath a leaden sky.

Sixth January this year we contemplated a drive up to the summit of Mount Pantocrator but though the sun was shining and the atmosphere scoured of cloud or haze by gale force winds, there was something a little intimidating about the prospect of standing on that exposed mountain top with such a wind snatching at your clothing and forcing you to lean into it. It’s quite a small summit, crowded with telecommunications masts and a monastery, a peculiar juxtaposition. The sheer drop is sudden, steep, and it’s a long, long way down.

We decided to drive south instead, and headed for the other Corfiot mountain, Agii Deka (Ten Saints).

The road winds steadily upwards, flanked by rather splendid homes and terrifying drops, but with spectacular views to take the passenger’s mind off the vertigo-inducing sights and to keep the driver’s mind firmly on his or her job. The village of Agii Deka remains one of those beautiful traditional villages, with a narrow street circumnavigating the centre, a sheer but railed drop (of course) on one side and tantalisingly photogenic houses piled one on top of the other on the other. You can only appreciat5e such a place by walking, exploring the narrow alleys and the apparently haphazardly placed buildings. Thank heaven for digital cameras – it would have been all too easy to get through several rolls of film in the ‘old’ days.

The origins of Agii Deka, like those of so many villages, certainly go back to Byzantine times and the tightly packed buildings and narrow alleys derived from the need to foil the attacks of pirates through the centuries. The origin of the name is obscure but may be connected to Christian monks who escaped martyrdom in Albania by fleeing to Corfu.

Somehow the past is never a closed chapter in Corfu – it is all around us, in place names, in traditions and customs that are very much alive and not just a memory.

The drive from Agii Deka to the south is wonderful – no-one who does it could continue to assert that Corfu is over-developed and spoilt. I would recommend it to anyone who has been watching the new British TV series about Kavos – the rowdy and unseemly behaviour of its visitors is by no means typical of the south of Corfu which on the whole remains so very traditional.
  A vast expanse of apparently unbroken olive groves undulates down to the sea, visible here on both the east and west coasts. The resort of Benitses with its smart new marina, looks tiny from this height. Hills of amazingly geometric shape sprout up completely devoid of even a shed let alone an apartment block. Spiralling down towards Messonghi, via Stavros, the road is lined with small clusters of houses, old-fashioned cafeneions and small vineyards that benefit from the southerly aspect, and there is a view of the sun-struck western sea, burnished to gold by the midday sun – a Homeric view that dazzles the mind and the eye.

We coasted along empty roads to Messonghi and swung on to the old road that runs by the sea to Boukari and Petreti.
Unknown to people who usually holiday in the north of the island, this route is a revelation. A road that dips and bends alongside the sea, lined with tamarisk, bamboo and olive trees, sheltering houses built by local people in the days when land by the sea was considered worthless and went for a song. Not an area of luxury villas on the whole, these are simple homes with the inestimable asset of being right on the shore line. Here and there are fish restaurants, popular with locals who come out from town on summer Sundays, armed with their newspapers and supplements, to enjoy fresh fish in the circumstances that endeared Greece to so many of us – a slightly wobbly table under a thatched shade, close enough to the sea to be able to flick your olive pits into it to annoy the tiny fish. The service is leisurely and the cats under the table are patient but quietly persistent


Needless to say, at this time of the year the seaside eateries are closed up, swathed in sheets of plastic against the sea that can be - as it was on this day - rough and destructive.

Further along the coast road is Petreti, a small harbour popular with yachtsmen and local sailors and home to a colourful group of quite large fishing boats whose crews can be overheard chatting in Arabic, Albanian and Turkish. It presented a very ‘closed-up’ look when we visited on this January day. Restaurants shut, thatched sun shades battered and shredded by the wind, a solitary black dog wandering disconsolately, thin, deprived of the generosity of summer visitors. Even the fishing boats with their trawling equipment were silent and still, the nets and floats piled tidily on the quayside like a heap of onions.

We turned inland here and followed the main road south. It runs like a spine down the centre of the island which is at its narrowest here. To our right the sun gleamed upon the sea that once came right up to the level of the road but now lies far away beyond sand dunes bordered by long beaches of golden sand.
These magnificent beaches are for the most part very quiet, even in the height of summer and are noteworthy for their surfing (board or kite), for their solitude and the sunsets.

Kavos, subject of recent TV series is not the sprawling blot on the landscape of Corfu that you might imagine. It is tucked away on the southeast coast, its vulgarity  confined behind the surrounding olive groves, a lure to British youth on a hair-letting-down spree, but of little appeal to older. More mature visitors. You can quite easily pass it by and drive into Lefkimmi, which must be one of the most fascinating villages on Corfu. It was one of the last places in Corfu to become familiar with the visits of tourists. Life remained feudal and unchanged there for many years. On my first visit, back in the Seventies, I drove along the ‘main’ street towards the river, in an open Triumph sports car, with a girlftiend. All along the street, men were sitting in groups, outside houses and cafeneions, smoking, chatting, clicking their worry-beads. We drove slowly, aware of the frowns if disbeliefs. One man stared aggressively then turned his head away and spat on to the uneven pavement – a classic Greek gesture of disapproval. My Greek was adequate enough for me to understand his comment: ‘Look at that! Women , on their own and driving a car!’

An unusual sight in Lefkimmi!

Lefkimmi is actually a conglomeration of several villages, established in Paleolithis times though much of what we now see dates back to Byzantine and Venetian times. There is nothing else in Corfu quite like the layout and architecture of this village. It reminds me of the islands of the Venetian lagoon and, with the river running through it, it is also very reminiscent of an old Dutch village.
Boats of all kinds tie up alongside the river banks and in summer there is nothing more pleasant than a drink or a meal at one of the riverside establishments. But we went in winter, and nothing was open. We always take a flask of what you might call ‘fortified coffee’ on our jaunts – a habit I learned from my parents and one my own family cheerfully continues to indulge in – so we sat by the river in the sun and, not for the first time, pondered on our good fortune in living in Corfu.


We did not have time on this short winter day to explore any further, but there are endless possibilities – the white, hill-top village of Chlomos, the cliffs of Arkoudillas at the southernmost tip of Corfu, the octagonal and wondrous fortress of Gardiki, built in Byzantine times by the same man who built the equally wondrous Angelokastro on the northwest coast.
Pic ark and gard and chlomos.

The view from Chlomos acress southern Corfu

Aerial view Gaediki Castle

 Southernmost Corfu - Arkoudillas

Since I started to put this blog together, the weather has changed and changed again. Today the weather is coming up from the south – bringing strong wings and milder temperatures. A few days ago we had the ‘red rain that comes on the back of the winds from the Libyan desert. (The Italians call it ‘blood rain’). More recently, the island shook every few minutes with earthquakes, one of which shook us all to the accompaniment of a sound like thunder.
All part of the rich tapestry of weather, climate and natural phenomena that make life on this island so interesting!

Sunset Vitalades