Now, homecoming, returning to your own place after an absence is supposed to be a rewarding experience. The first twenty minutes following our return the other day to the wooden house, after spending a few weeks in the UK, was beset by an unlikely series of incidents.
Herbert, our Austrian neighbour, had collected us from Kalamata bus station in his ancient Mercedes- we had flown in to Athens and then taken the bus. As we bumped down the last few hundred yards of the track, leaving a long cloud of dust behind us, we became aware of the sound of a pneumatic drill. This was Sunday and the valley should have been soundless, except for the ciccadas, but a young Greek bloke, Andreas, who runs a fast food place in Kalamata called, quaintly, Adam’s Chicken, is building a pied-a-terre across the valley. This was him shattering the Sabbath silence on his day off. A poor start.
As we unloaded our luggage from Herbert’s car outside the house, it became immediately clear that our garden, such as it is, had been comprehensively devoured (by three escaped sheep, we learned later) Pretty much everything had been eaten down to the roots, including Linda’s pet peach tree, which she had grown from a stone, and all the carrots, courgettes and tomatoes in the vegetable garden. The only thing which remained uneaten was the vleeta. Vleeta is a Mediterranean green vegetable which resembles a sort of tough spinach. We don’t like it much.
So Herbert disappears down the track and we open up the house. In the porch outside the door we have two gas bottles, one of which runs a little gas fridge in the house, and the other the gas cooker. I had turned off the bottles before departing for England. Opening the tap on the bottle for the fridge, I went inside, lit the little pilot light at the back, and went outside again to open the other bottle. I turn on the tap. There is a hiss.
Hmmmm, I think, all the rings on the gas cooker are turned off, and there must be a leak in the pipe, a mouse job. The same thing happened last year: mice chewed through the gas pipe while we were away. After a fatal moment’s thought, I close the tap and go back inside. Plaf! A blue carpet of flame explodes across the floor as the gas/air mixture in the room ignites from the fridge pilot light. A smoke blackened mouse totters from beneath the cooker.
Though it looked and felt quite alarming, there was no damage at all, nothing caught fire. I located and repaired the chewed hole in the pipe so that we were able to put the kettle on and make a cup of tea.
Half an hour later, Linda’s mobile goes. An English woman in the village has been stung by a wasp and her arm is swelling up dangerously. Linda flies off in our truck to find an open Farmakio in Kalamata and the relevant antidote.
Some days are like that.
Andreas, who was building the house across the valley, we now know better. At the time I wrote the article, his fast food franchise seemed to be doing well and he was able to pay assorted teams of Albanians to build the house, a traditional stone structure on a very steep site. The business folded soon after, as the shadow of the recession lengthened, and work on the house stopped. At some point he went to New York to work as a builders’ labourer but was back in Greece within months.
Conditions there were very bad, he said. These days we see him occasionally as he mooches through our land to pick herbs and to give us the benefit of his latest thinking. Work on his house has more or less stopped, though his friends appear from time to time to do bits and pieces. He lives at home with his parents. The last few years have been difficult for him, and his young man’s egotism has been dented. He is, of course, older than he was.
Oh yes….I couldn’t absolutely swear that I saw a smoke blackened mouse. I rehearsed the story, including the mouse, often enough to make me a bit vague on the point. Journalistic licence, I guess.
Dina, Niko’s daughter, had been watering the plants while we were away, by the way.