Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Football Fans' Fate??

I was watching England play Hungary last night on the internet. A friendly before the rigours of the World Cup begin in earnest. It was on a TV stream from Shanghai I think and the commentary was in it sounded as if, 'Hengerrant' were playing 'Hangally'.

I had been looking forward to the game actually - a break from translating a software text - but when I saw the team our Swedish manager had picked the discontent started to well up in my marrow - or wherever it wells up- and I spent a lot of the game shouting abuse at the computer monitor...

In the living room TM was watching Jharmanhy squeeze a lucky draw from their game against Ha-Jarpan... actually the commentator on the TV was German so it was Deutschland gegen Japan and I noticed that she was doing her fair share of shouting a colourful mixture of German and English oaths at the TV, too.

That made me wonder whether it is the same for all football fans when we watch our teams. Do we all sit there and scream obscenities at the screen as our team's players waltz forlornly around chasing shadows and hitting stray passes to the opposition. Could it be that, say, Brazilian fans sit in total relaxation before their TV sets while their team runs rings around their opponents or do they too complain that the one player could have done a few more stepovers before lobbing the goalkeeper from 40 yards or that the other player could have done a few more flip-flacks after completing his 2nd hattrick of the game?

Whatever the answer might be I find myself still looking forward to the next game on Saturday against Ha-Jah-maic-ha... surely this time our Swedish son of Erik will play all the players in their correct positions and we will dazzle the world with our footybilities....?

Pah-lob-habry ha-not..

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

One Year

It's one year today since I had my last half-proper conversation with my mother - I wrote about it here...

Over the whole two weeks during which every day I had visited the nursing home where she was slowly sinking, she hadn't really given me any sign that she was aware of what was going on... but on that day, 30th May last year, she was sat up in bed as I went into her room and she managed to say, "I haven't seen you for ages..."

And that was the last afternoon we spent together.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Cor Blimey, Mate...

...phew, that was a bit of a hard week that was!
2 days... long days in the studio (any of you who have worked in a studio for a 10 hour stretch will know how knackering that can be), 3 gigs, 3 translations and a load of teaching... and still no-one has paid my bills... aaaaarrrrgghhhhh!

Time, I think, to drift back to my HH (for newcomers: Hypothetical Holiday)...

Ho hum...where were we? Up getting vertigo in the Grand Canyon of Greece I think.

Well, another one of the beauties of a hypothetical holiday is that you can jump from one place to another - so let's go here...near the walls around the old town...

And you can also jump from one time to, it can now be evening, say around 8.30.

Up in the main street right now there will be a vólta which is where you could meet your friends in the days before mobile phones. The vólta is a strange phenomenon when you first experience it. Over a stretch of about 200 yards on the main street (always the same 200 yards, too) the Ianniots congregate and just stroll up and down numerous times, passing each other, saying hello and so on until they have met whomever they wish to meet and then they go off and do whatever might have taken their fancy... cinema, a meal, listening to music...etc...

Down by the lake near the old walls is one of my favourite places - a small run-down restaurant called the Iví. When I lived in Ioannina I often used to go there whenever I had more or less run out of money. In the Ivi you could get yemistá - stuffed green peppers and tomatoes, angourisaláta - a cucumber salad and a bottle of retsína for about 20 drachmas - which in today's terms is approximately nothing.

Ahhh...sitting at a rickety table on a wobbly chair in front of the Iví, mopping up the rich green olive oil with white bread, sipping on the smooth pale yellow retsina and watching and listening (Greece is LOUD!) to the hustle and bustle of the world going by as dusk gradually deepens... that's better!

In the next HH report I think I may have to travel back in time to revisit the one and only time I conquered a mountain peak... Mitsikeli...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

Bavaria is supposed to be a really safe state to live and one would imagine that Munich must be one of the safest cities BUT.....

I was driving to the company where I teach English this morning and listening to the local news on the radio. The top story was about a bear which has somehow sneaked across the border from Austria - I mean didn't those border police check his passport - and has gone on a wild bloodthirsty rampage, killing 11 sheep and 3 chickens. I was thinking, "that really shows how safe Bavaria is when they have that as the top story..."

ONE bear in the whole of Bavaria....I mean how unbelievably, mind-bogglingly unlucky would you have to be to get yourself eaten by that one lonely illegal bear immigrant?

And as I was thinking the words "unbelievably, mind-bogglingly unlucky" the next news item came on - about an unexploded World War 2 bomb which had been found in Munich that morning... and where had it been found?

In the very street I was driving along !!!

If the bears don't get you the bombs will!

I spent the rest of the morning avoiding anyone who looked like a bear with a bomb.

Dads' Day

It's Ascension Day tomorrow!


Well, Ascension Day in Deepest Bavaria is a public holiday and also Fathers' Day!

Traditionally, it should be a sunny day and big gangs of fathers get together and hike out into the hills or cycle out into whatever you cycle out into and then they all meet up in beer-gardens and booze their blues away.

This year however something has gone wrong at the German Ministry of Weather Planning cos it's rubbish weather out, rainy not very May-like...

Could be a dud Dads' Day!

Monday, May 22, 2006

World Cup³

I like football, I really do...but I am getting a bit fed up with the World Cup already... or to be a little more exact with the World Cup merchandising. It clearly doesn't help living in Germany where, being the host nation, World Cup fever is naturally more widespread than elsewhere but everywhere you look, from advertising hoardings to TV screens, gormless footballers stare back at you with their forced empty smiles. And it's the same in the supermarkets; World Cup chocolate bars, World Cup beer, World Cup sausages and even World Cup toilet paper - presumably in that case you buy the teams which you DON'T like.

And World Cup sticker albums !!!

You buy an album and then packs of stickers with footballers, flags, stadiums (stadia), etc on them and stick them in or swap them until you fill your album.

It's nice for kids...but it got a bit out of hand when our lead guitarist and his girlfriend dumped a huge pile of stickers on the table by the stage where we played on Saturday and kept running off in the sound check and later in the breaks to stick unknown Chinese or Korean players into their albums (alba)...!

Saturday, May 20, 2006


I have to break off my HypoHol this weekend too. There's a gig tonight and then on Monday back into the studio for back-up and harmony vocals; gigs on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday is Fathers' Day in deepest Bavaria... which normally comprises a short 'hike' to a nearby beer-garden.

Just non-stop stress!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Greek Grand Canyon

I couldn't spend hypothetical time in the north west of Greece without a hypothetical excursion to the Greek Grand Canyon, Vikos, just north of Ioannina.

We take the Konitsa road out of Ioannina and turn off for the village of Monodendri. Then, if I remember rightly after walking through the village there is a path to one of those monasteries that the Greeks just loved to build in insanely impossible places. I mean if someone came to you and asked you to build a monastery somewhere, I very much doubt you would say, "well, how about half way up a precipitous cliff-face?" And I think it even less likely that your customer would say, "hey! Good idea!"

But the Greeks think differently - just one of the many reasons I like them so much.

This is an amazing area not visited too much by pesky tourists and it's probably just as well when you see the path you need to walk along. This is a picture which I took in the 70s and you can just about see the path right above the bushes half way down the side of the cliff.

I have no head for heights and this stroll along a 3-foot wide (that's about a metre for Metricians) path which just about clings to the cliff-face with no railings or fencing to protect you from the drop miles down to the rocks and river below was a total nightmare for me but now I have finally recovered from it 30 years later I am glad we went!

The really nice exciting thing is that at some points the path has crumbled away and it is only about one foot wide (erm...that's about 30 centimetres). And at one particular place the path had gone completely and the 5 foot gap (let's see... erm... oh work it out yourself) was bridged just by a rotten old plank that some thoughtful sadist had just plonked down there.

It does make you appreciate life when you get back to Monodendri though (assuming you DO get back) and it makes a beer and a slice of the heavenly tyropitta (cheese pie) taste like nectar and ambrosia.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Back to HypoHol

...after the trials, tribulations and alcohol excesses of the FA Cup final weekend and a day in the studio yesterday playing bass on songs from the Paul Daly Band CD it is time to return to my HypoHol...

So, where were we?

I had just had my bougatsa for breakfast I think. This is a kind of hot flaky fyllo pastry pie filled with either a sweet vanilla semolina filling or savoury cheese. They are incredibly good.

(Here is a pretty decent recipe for bougatsa.)

Ok, I think I have to go down to the lake again and take a trip over to the little island in the middle of the lake which is called to nisaki which means "little island"...which is quite a reasonable name for a little island I suppose!

I looked for the sign in Greek and 'English' which said,

Axiothemata tis nisou
Worthseeing of the island

...but I couldn't find it.

The little ferry boats look the same though...

So you jump on one of those and chug out to the island. The island itself is a peaceful little world of fishermen's houses and monasteries which date back to the 13th century.

Opposite the little harbour where the boats pull in there are a few fish restaurants which offer fish from the lake. They have the fish swimming in glass tanks at the front of the restaurants and as each boat pulls in during the day the restaurant owners go into top gear to try and lure the arriving guests, who are of course their only customers, to come in and eat. And they have a pretty dramatic way of getting attention. Just as the passengers disembark, the waiters come out with nets and reach into the tanks. Then when they have got a couple of fish in their nets they throw them onto the marble paving slabs at the feet of the newly arrived tourists where they writhe and flap, unable to breathe. The idea is that this shows just how fresh the fish are and you are supposed to choose one which will then be taken off into the kitchen, executed and served up! As the people walked away the waiters would gather up the fish again and drop them back into the water.

I always used to feel sorry for the fish! The boats would arrive every hour and out the poor little buggers would go ...again and again until finally they would manage to attract the attention of some hungry visitor and got clobbered on the head and fried in a pan. What a life!

This is the harbour on the island.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Gerrin' There!

Phew, what a cup final that was! It's left me with my finger-nails ripped to tatters, a fine old hangover thudding away in my bonce and has probably taken a couple of years off my life.

BBC highlights here...

West Ham 2-0 up at half time, Liverpool get back to 2-2. Then WHU score a freak goal which looks as if it's going to win it for them but with a minute left Gerrard fires a screamer into the bottom left corner of the net. The players drag themselves through half an hour of extra time and it goes to nerve-wracking penalties...and Pepé Reina the young Spanish goalkeeper who made a couple of very untypical botches in the game saves three penalties and wins us the cup!

I need a HypoHoliday after that!

Saturday, May 13, 2006



Tension Mounts

... if I were in Greece right now I would be looking for a taverna with a big TV so I could watch the FA CUP FINAL, and in the process probably make loads of new philous (yeah, friends)!!

It's the Reds against the Hammers (Liverpool v. West Ham for the uninitiated).

However, as I am will have to be down to the local Irish pub!

Depending on the result, there may be more later...

Friday, May 12, 2006

HypoBougatsa for Breakfast

Somwhere down below I posted a sunrise over the mountains which surround and enclose Ioannina. Well, that is what I would have woken up to, if I had been sleeping in Buzzy down by the lake. I would probably also have been eaten alive by mozzies as the lake Pamvotis is a wonderful breeding ground for the little b*****ds. (This, by the way, is just one more advantage of being on a hypothetical mozzy bites!)

When I lived here the last thing we would do at night was known as "Mozzy Patrol" and it consisted of going around the bedroom trying to flush the mozzies out and destroy them before they came and sucked your blood in the night. They always seemed congregate on the ceiling and the best way I found of splatting them was to use an old Greek grammar book.

You stand under the target mozzy with the book in the outstretched palm of your hand, compose yourself for a moment and then launch the book in a horizontal position ceiling-wards as powerfully as possible. The mozzy might register that something is on its way up but if you are lucky that will be the last thing it will register.

It might just have time to try and fly away but the book should squat it anyway.

I often used to wonder what the neighbours above thought when, late at night, they would hear a slam under their floor and then a cry of jubilation if we'd got it, "YEEEE-HE-HESSSSS", or frustration if we'd missed, "ARRGGHHHHHH!!!!"

The ceiling ended up looking like a negative photo of the night sky...lots of black spots in an expanse of white!

Anyway, time to stroll up the main street to the main square and see if my favourite bougatsa shop is still in is!!

MMmmm, hypothetical bougatsa for breakfast (that really is low-calory!)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A(n) FAQ...

At the moment, as a result of my HypoHol, I am being asked a fair bit the following question:
"how did you come to live in Ioannina (for any newcomers, that's in north-west Greece)?"

Well, for the shortish story of how I came to live there in the first place you could take some time, sit back and read PAME! this the Future?

I am amazed to find that there are a couple of positive things about going on a hypothetical holiday (see the last 5 or 6 posts).
Of course the main thing, and the reason after all why I am having a HypoHol in the first place, is that it is relatively inexpensive compared to a normal fact it costs nowt apart from a little time thinking and searching for photos.

But another big advantage which occured to me last night is that you can have a quick break from it...say, to translate or teach or play a gig...without actually losing a day of the holiday! It's like having an extremely low-tech StarTrek transporter; I can beam myself to whatever point I was up to in my HypoTrip and then when the need arises beam myself back to my office (office, ha! I really had to think what to call the catastrophically untidy place where I churn out my translations, blogs, songs and assorted drivel! I took a picture of it last year and sent it to one of my editors - she was really shocked! Let me see if I can find it...hang on it's on the PC...I'll post it later).

Come to think of it a hypothetical holiday is infinitely extendable too - although I think daydreaming on that scale would seriously damage what mental health I have - no, you have to give a HypoHol a limit - so I will keep to what I wanted to achieve in my 2 week itinerary.

So, assuming I got to Ioannina and went down to the lake to spend the night in Buzzy, here is the sunrise...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Just To Bring Me Down To Earth...

At this time in May in Bavaria we "celebrate" the Eisheiligen. This means "Ice Saints" and it refers to the feast days of St. Boniface, St. Pancras, St. Servatius and St. Sophia (better known as Cold Sophie). The days come in the middle of May and are well known for being much colder than the days just before or just after.
There is some arcane meteorological reason for this but it is basically quite simply a pain in the arse. Just when you think winter might have finally buggered off and you begin to risk going out without a jacket, these bloody freezing cold days come and treat your goosepimples to a last day out.
This has come as a shock amidst my absent-minded reminiscences about Greece on my hypothetical holiday...but I will not let it get me's a bit of sweet pictorial revenge...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hypothetical Holiday

I must admit I am quite enjoying this "would have been" trip to the north-west of Greece! The trouble is I find my mind is wandering up and down the streets of Ioannina when it should be concentrating on translating or teaching. The more I think about it though and the more I look at people's photos I find things coming back to me; little memories of the smells of coffee and mothballs; walking along the main street and the uneveness of the pavements or the light on an Autumn afternoon down by the lake.

When I lived in Ioannina in the 70s it was not at all typically Greek. Ioannna was not liberated from the Ottoman Empire until 1913, almost a century after the Turks were driven out of the rest of Greece, and there were still many reminders of the 450-year occupation.
This is Ali Pasha's palace overlooking the lake.

Now that just does not look Greek!

If you went in a kapheneion in those days you ordered a tourkiko - one of those little doll's house coffees with all the powder still inside the cup. During the time I was in Ioannina the name of the coffee was made politically correct in gradual stages. First the name was changed to byzantino - i.e. a Byzantine coffee and by the end of my second year there you could only get an elliniko - a Greek coffee. The drink was exactly the same of course!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

After a Hypothetical Breakfast..

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Proino (brekker) in Igoumenitsa...say, Greek yoghurt and honey and a strong black elliniko to wash it down and then on the road again. Past the sheep with their dull-ringing clunky sheep-bells and on to the part of the road I used to call "Scalextric" because of the serpentine way it wiggles its way through the hills.

Normally I would get stuck behind a groaning heaving truck at this point having passed not a single vehicle up till then.

Also the music would have been important at this point...whenever I think of this stretch of the road from Igoumenitsa to Ioannina I hear "Lying Eyes" by the Eagles in my mind's let's have it...

You can't hiiiiiiide your lyin' eyes....dadang da..

Next stop Ioannina...

The Next Step

So, while I am actually up early at home on this Saturday morning doing a translation about cubist and suprematist Russian painters, I can continue my - sadly theoretical - Greek holiday...

This would have been me on the ferry passing early morning dark grey hump of Corfu on the right and coming into the entrance to the port of Igoumenitsa with its low wooded hills just behind the town and the hint of mountains beyond. When I was leaving Greece from here for what turned out to be a very long time in the 70s it was late evening and there was an incredible display of a kind of dry lightning across these streaks zapping and fizzing almost horizontally across the body of the uphills. The gods were obviously trying to tell me something important...probably something like, "don't eat the meatballs on the ferry".

Anyway, the ferry steams slowly into its berth and it is time to disembark. When you are driving around the port in Italy, Ancona or Bari or Venice as it would have been in this case, you are aware of the bustle, noise and aromas and you think, "aha, a Mediterranean port!" but on arrival in Greece...Igoumenitsa, Corfu, Patras, which are of course also Mediterranean ports, that bustle, noise and aroma is in some strange way different...I don't think I can describe it - it could well be an "if-you-have-experienced-it-you-will-understand" type of thing...
It is a Greek bustle, noise and aroma...

Anyway, time to look for a kapheneion to break my fast and have a spot of proino...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Wish I Were There...

That is where I should be right now.

Ioannina in north-west Greece, where I lived for 2 years back...way back...oh, yonks ago. That is something like the view I had from my balcony too although I was further down in the town within mozzy range of the lake.

The plan was to go to Greece just about now - this was my birthday present last year, faithful readers will remember. I would have driven down to Venice in my bus and then caught the ferry to Igoumenitsa. After that there would have been a 100 kilometre drive to Ioannina and there I would have spent a few days looking for places I once knew, eating fantastic food in disorganised little tavernas, walking along the lake front and generally having a good old wallow in nostalgia.

So, why all the 'would haves' and 'should haves'?

The most boring of! I was hit by the curse of the freelancer at the start of March when 4 (4!!! I can't believe it was 4) of my week-long intensive English courses were cancelled... argghhhh! I moan when I have got them... but I moan even more when they get cancelled at short notice but not short enough that I can bill the companies... argghhh! This of course blew an enormous hole in my financial 'plan' and so I have had to postpone Greece and spend my time grubbing around for work to fill the gaps.

In the meantime I am trying to do the trip vicariously in my head with the help of Google images!
(And it has also helped finding a really nice blog called 'Ta nea tis Zitsas' written by someone in the village of Zitsa which is near Ioannina. I have been brushing up my Greek by reading his/her blog and leaving comments.)

So, assuming I would have left yesterday, I would have driven over the Brenner, through the Dolomites, past Lake Garda and along the Autostrada 1 to Venice. There I would have spent the night in Buzzy. Just about now, 8 a.m., the ferry would be leaving, I would be waving goodbye to Venice harbour and we would be slicing lines of creamy white surf in the wine-dark Adriatic...heading east.