The expats, the other people from England who moved here, have an interesting network. There are networks of Germans too, and a group of Dutch people we hear, and there are bound to be others. You can see why they develop, these networks. EEWApart from anything else, it’s so much easier talking in your native language.
Of course, we speak to Greeks, in our primitive way, to Niko our neighbour, to Voula. Kosta, Takis, and other personalities in the village, and I pass the time of day with the assorted builders merchants and suppliers I encounter in the course of making the wooden house- which is almost finished, i.e. it has a shower and a toilet, though some of the walls are still missing.
Our relations with Greeks are entirely amiable, but spending an entire evening struggling to understand what is being said, can be quite taxing.
Sitting at a table with someone who speaks your language can be a great relief, and it comes as no surprise that the English people who live scattered across Messinia/Mani tend to be aware of each other and to seek each other out. The English expats are a strikingly diverse group. Many of them, inevitably, are retired, with pensions to support them financially, though there is a living to be made here. Linda, for example, has two part time jobs in Kalamata, teaching English, and we know people who make furniture for a living, work for tourist outfits, teach yoga and practice osteopathy.
Paul and Diana are typically untypical. They live above the village in an extraordinarily beautiful yurt, a genuine Mongolian specimen. Yurts, in case you are wondering, are circular tents used by nomads in central Asia. Paul was a navigator in the R.A.F. for twenty two years and Diana ran a bed and breakfast place on Exmoor. After some years living in France, they moved here. Their shared passion is for the self sustainable life, for home grown vegetables, solar power, composting toilets, etc.
Pam and Dave live in a modest house below the village with a boxer dog and a grumpy terrier. Dave’s father was a gamekeeper all his life and the son shares his father’s rustic outlook. He keeps chickens and rabbits in hutches carefully crafted from old pallets. Their garden is a vista of vegetables: cabbages, leeks, sprouts, potatoes. Both of these couples live here permanently, while other people also have a house in the UK and divide their time between the two. George Elliot and Mary Wray, for example, live for part of the year in what used to be the old olive press, and part of the year in North London.
Lisa and Richard, who live twenty kilometres down the coast, are in their thirties. She was in a hotel next to the World Trade Centre in New York when the aircraft hit the two towers in 2001. Their move to Greece, in search of a saner existence, was a direct consequence of that experience.
I did hear that the pilot of the Enola Gay, the aircraft which dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, lived for many years in Messinia and died only recently.
Paul died maybe three years ago but Di stayed on in the yurt, to which has since been added a picturesque huddle of more recent structures. The garden is a delight. She takes in paying guests now, holiday makers, to supplement her pension.
Dave’s health failed and he and Pam moved back to England, where he died. Pam hasn’t returned to Greece and the house currently stands empty and the garden is overgrown.
Lisa and Richard are now back in the UK, living in Devon.
We meet hardly any new arrivals, these days
There is a definite sense of the ebbing of a tide.
Some other retired people that we know have died or moved back to the UK, often for health reasons, or they want to spend time with recently arrived grandchildren. We hear that there are some hundreds of houses along the coast, belonging to foreigners, which are for sale at the moment.
George and Mary still visit regularly and seem to have changed not at all.