Megali Mantinia stands above steep olive terraces about a kilometre from the blue bay of Messinia. The foothills of the Taygetos Mountains rise behind the village.
On August afternoons it bakes, and a kind of somnolent silence hangs over the landscape. The only things that move are the ears of a donkey as it stands in the black shade of an olive tree.
In May 2002 whilst motoring through Greece in an ancient Peugeot on a year long jaunt around Europe, we stopped off here and pitched our tent on an olive terrace outside the village with a sublime view out over the bay to the distant hills of Messinia and the Taygetos range rising mistily behind.
We stayed for three weeks, sleeping in our little tent and sheltering from the heat of the day under broad olive sheets strung between the trees, whilst we explored Mani and Messinia by car. The terrace where we had our encampment was for sale, in fact a big chunk of the valley side was for sale- about four acres….and 200 olive trees.
Richard and Lisa Garvey Williams, who had bought this land with a view to opening a holiday retreat, had been obliged to abandon their project. The price they were asking for the land was, we thought, very fair and at some point during our stay Linda and I looked at one another.
We can do this, we thought.
Over a couple of days we arranged the money over the (GarveyWilliams’) telephone, something called an equity release loan, using our house in Lancaster as collateral, and that was it, done. We owned an olive grove: no house, no water and the track from the village barely passable, but beautiful, beautiful.
So, after a year back in England, having sold our Lancaster house, given over our jobs/commitments and said a temporary farewell to friends and family- we are hoping for a stream of visitors- and here we are again, bumping down the track from the village.
Nobody has been on the land for over a year and it feels a bit like Sleeping Beauty’s castle, overgrown with burnt brown prickly stuff. The unpruned olive trees, green and shaggy, hang over the virtually invisible track and swags of green olives brush over the windscreen of the car as we nose through the undergrowth.
Just inside the rusty gate to the land we spot a tap wired to the trunk of a tree. A whole year has passed since we received a letter from the mayor authorising our water supply and we have been negotiating with a local engineer by email to get a connection to the village tank. The pipe was connected yesterday, we gather later.
Getting out of the car we turn on the tap and water gushes out almost hot. Quite remarkable. We laugh out loud.
Unpacking the car on the same terrace where we camped last year, we make a cup of tea with the new water. Below us we notice that there is fruit on the fig tree and most of the figs are ripe. We split open the soft fruit and lick out the strange red flesh, like people in a DH Lawrence novel.
Almost all of these pieces were typed on a computer at an internet café in Kalamata and sent off directly to the editor of the newspaper. The other machines in the café were given over to computer games and the local boys were enthusiastic players, so the atmosphere tended to be frenetic. I didn’t often make notes beforehand. This partly explains the slightly fractured style.
It was only much later that we got an internet connection at the house.