Categories
Moving

Walk/ Don’t Walk

This is a pedestrian story. Long ago, but not so far away, I went to live on Rhodes. I am a walker; not a hiker, not a rambler – a walker. I like it. It serves me well. The locals viewed my love of walking with curiosity; it was not within the realm of anyone’s experience to choose to walk. My behavior was passed-off as English eccentricity, which was fine. However, despite this ‘acceptance’, attempts were still made to change my mind.

On one memorable, quite typical, occasion, I set out for the coast to see how far I could go before nightfall. It was an autumnal Sunday and the weather was perfect for a walk; warm sunshine, cool breeze and clear air. I had only been on the road for ten minutes when my landlord’s car pulled up alongside and I was offered a lift.
‘Where are you going?’
‘For a walk.’
‘No, where are you going?’
‘For a walk.’
Five minutes later, I was able to start moving again, but the car motored next to me for a further five ‘in case I changed my mind’.

Now, I walk here and others choose to do the same. There are sponsored walks and runs. On medical advice, people walk up and down the waterfront at the nearly-new marina development. Dog-walking brings yet others out. This has seen a growth in sales of specialist clothing; many feel unable to take to the roads of Rhodes without the full kit. At one charity fundraiser, many of the participants were in outfits so new, they still had the price tags attached. They want to look the part. They want to be seen to have ‘changed their mind’.

People forget how to walk. It’s true. They can do the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other thing, but put them out in public and there’s no pathway code. This much is clear in the summer, when thousands of visitors are disgorged from planes and ships onto the streets. Far from their cars, in the heat of the sun, they forget (if, indeed, they ever knew) that they are in a living, working town and they wander. They wander everywhere. They wander off. Stop/start/left/right/back/forth. Walking with purpose becomes a slalom course. As a resident, you’re often invisible. I am at once irritated, frustrated and exasperated. Yet, I smile.

Why? You may ask. Because this experience, wandering on Rhodes, just might ‘change their minds’ when they return home and help them see that ‘for a walk’ is both a purpose and a destination.

Categories
Moving

Spirit of Place

Alex Marshall is the Manager of Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel in Rhodes Old Town (more information about the hotel here: http://www.spiritoftheknights.com/). The accommodation remains open all year and is consistently awarded excellent ratings in travel guides and reviews, national and international. In 2013, I went to talk to Alex at the hotel about his relationship with Rhodes and the business itself. Alex first arrived in Rhodes, not unsurprisingly, as a tourist on holiday with a friend in 2001. Yet, for someone who later decided to live and work here, his first impressions weren’t positive. He only spent a short time on the island, mostly along the north-west coast where there were high-rise developments and strip malls. This left him with the feeling that, although this was a great holiday for many, it just wasn’t for him. However, something told him there had to be more to the island and, when he returned with his mother (Felicity) the following year, he discovered there was. The beauty, for Alex, on this second visit, was the quality of time that mother and son were able to enjoy together. Felicity was able to share her love of the place with Alex and he saw, through her eyes, a very different island from the one he’d visited a year earlier. He has not looked back, and since then has made Rhodes his home. By 2002, Felicity had already set in motion the project which was to become Spirit of the Knights. But the family was still a long way, and a great deal of hard work, from opening the business to guests. Alex believes that the lengthy process and great dedication which went into preparing the hotel strengthened his family. The Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel accepted its first guests in 2008. Alex certainly learned a great deal in the lead up to that date – about the business and the place itself – yet now, he is learning even more and at a greater rate. In himself, he has gained in confidence, self-awareness and self-respect since becoming so actively involved in this family enterprise. In addition, his respect for the island, and particularly its people and culture, has grown over time. He feels he now has a clearer view and sense of what is happening on the local and national scene, even if long hours of work mean he’s unable to participate as fully as he’d like in cultural events. Alex and his wife Lena (who works alongside him at the hotel) used to live in Koskinou. This is a village about 5 miles south-east of Rhodes town, famed for its distinctive traditional architecture. They spent four years there, before moving to live in Rhodes town, closer to the hotel. Initially wary of living somewhere which had seemed so quiet (he did, after all, grow up in London), they grew to appreciate the traditional community and sense of tranquility there. He and Lena were able to fully relax away from work once home. However, increasing demands from work (and dogs!) meant that a move to Rhodes town, walking distance from the business, made sense. I asked Alex if there was anything he felt he’d missed during the years away from the UK and, specifically, London. While he’s able to keep up with developments there by following social media and online news, and, of course, has friends regularly visiting him here – he does, just sometimes, long for the availability (‘anything at anytime’) and innovation (new, creative, ways of thinking) he feels is present in London. Those constructive, creative approaches he gleans from business and social networking (he has good working relationships with local business, too), he is keen to incorporate into best practice at the hotel – and it shows, but doesn’t intrude. He’s now more engaged than ever with the business and committed to this family affair. He feels more comfortable combining his knowledge, education and experience to enrich his results-oriented focus. The greatest challenge he sees for the business today is to maintain standards at the hotel during this worldwide, harsh economic period. It’s no mean feat to sustain such high status in clients’ personal estimations as well as professional league tables, but ‘Team Spirit’ do, and even make it appear effortless. This all helps to ensure that Alex’s job satisfaction is still there, growing alongside the brand identity of the business. He can always see ways (however small) to improve the stay experience for the guests. The Alex I spoke to is a man who enjoys engaging visitors and assisting them during their stay on the island. Despite being the hotel Manager, he’s most often met first by guests while helping them negotiate their way into the Old Town and down the narrow alleys leading to the hotel – as the ‘trolley boy’ (pushing improbably large suitcases on a luggage trolley and making it all look so easy). He enjoys the ‘cover’ of this role and, as with the rest of the team at the hotel, is not interested in uniforms or badges or status. Growing up in London, in his family, has helped him 100% in this work – it has equipped him to be as adaptable and flexible as he is today in providing the hotel guests with the best possible experience during their stay. A borderless family, a timeless place and an infinite capacity for service. The spirit of place is in this family affair.

(First published on axrhodes: 17/10/2013)

Categories
Living

Open Sesame!

For the first few years of my life, I lived at number 47 where there was (and still is) a door thing (there’s more on that here, at Number 47 ). Cleverly, my parents made a game of it. Thus, I would stand commandingly in front of doors at home and shout ‘Open Sesame!’ and when those doors did open (seemingly otherwise unaided), I was able to believe in the power of magic and that, somehow, I’d made that magic happen. Some might say my parents were setting me up for a fall. For sure, those came later. But I did learn a valuable lesson: faith over fear. I trusted in magic and respected the unknown. I believed. It worked.

Years later, I discovered ‘Open House’ in London (http://www.openhouseworldwide.org ) where the magic came from a built environment previously unseen – something everyone was totally free to experience. I posted about my most recent visit, on 20 and 21 September last year, in Testing Times. Then, this year, came my introduction to ‘Open Doors’. I’d heard of this project before, but not been fortunate enough to be around when and where it was taking place.

This past weekend – the last weekend of September –  ‘Ανοικτες Πόρτες’ (Open Doors – European Heritage Days) reminded me, once again, of my childhood wonder. It was my pleasure and privilege to be able to volunteer for Rhodes Riches (http://www.rhodesriches.org) here in Rhodes, Greece. The local theme this year was ‘Divine Heritage – The three religions in Rhodes: Christianity, Judaism and Islam’. For two days, the NGO, in co-operation with the relevant authorities, opened the doors of four churches, two mosques and the synagogue to all who were interested to visit (and quite a few curious passers-by). At the same time, the organization celebrated its fifth birthday, so it was only fitting that visitor totals broke records: together with the longer-term exhibition at the Kastellania, the venues totalled 28,109 visitors over the weekend.

Behind closed doors, a close-knit team of people had worked tirelessly to prepare this event. Once those doors were opened, sponsors, volunteers and visitors came together to make it work. The storms came along, the rain came down, the sun came out; regardless, the visitors just kept coming in. I spent Saturday afternoon at the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent and Sunday afternoon at the Kastellania exhibition ‘The Talented Dr Hedenborg’. I met many people from around the world and many locals. It was a joy to experience their wonder as well as my own. We can all believe in the power of magic and that, together, we make it happen. Open sesame!

Categories
Learning

Say Do You Remember?

September 1993, that is… Back from visiting my parents in Rhodes over the weekend, I feel quite distant. Always takes me time to readjust to The Rock. Start the day by filling the well for an hour, delivering my laundry, going for a swim (really more of a ‘bob’ as there’s a swell), then to Elpida’s for coffee and OJ. Back in the classroom, am worn out by Junior A. They are distracted by a passing funeral procession; the route passes the classroom window, the kids always want to see the corpse and compete with the keening mourners. I manage to stay calm, while encouraging them down from the furniture they’ve climbed onto to get a better view, and debating bringing ear plugs to work. Expelled a student for the first time (hopefully last). This causes excitement across the harbor and, at least, gives people something ‘real’ to chat about. Competition hots up for the ‘vacant’ desk as mothers petition for their children to enrol. Indefinite wait, as none of us know when the owner will be visiting. The wind is still high, so the boat timetable is upended. There’s been no sign of the Rodos ferry, which eventually arrives 24 hours late. Two hydrofoils make it into and out of the harbor, though. Comfort comes in many forms. I picked up a BBC World Service signal again. Found five good reads in a local tourist book exchange, which I unashamedly swapped for some trashers. An invitation to birthday cake and drinks is followed by a surprise dinner at Tholos. Cycled to the restaurant, but the food was so good I ate too much. I had to walk back very slowly. Thankfully, at the school room in time to take my parents’ phone call – they’ve arrived safely in Athens. Upstairs to bed with the BBC. Much depressing talk of Russia but, more happily, Sydney’s won the bid for the 2000 Olympic Games. Taken from the diary I kept while teaching in Symi, Greece

Categories
Smiling

Frankly Speaking – the Last Dog Days (a guest post)

Yes, my dies caniculares are coming to an end for this year. It’s been an eventful time with my star in the ascendent and the adoring hordes clamoring for my personal attention, but I have made it through with my ears perked, tail aloft and nose up. This, despite extreme heat in a restricted space with a neurotic bitch. She knows who she is. Her time will come.

My pack went one down. No, not her (her time will come) – the other male slipped out under cover of darkness. Of course, I knew – how could I not? It’s hard for a leader to recover poise after such a blow, but since that curious incident of the human in the night time, I have been especially attentive. These creatures need a leader, especially those beasts who arrive from the sea confused and directionless. Who better to guide them? Many arrive lost without their own pack, which they have misguidedly left where they call ‘home’. Fools! I can only do so much to help them without a treat incentive. All these tricks and sitting pretty consume a vast amount of energy.

Speaking of which, the remaining human in my immediate pack has instituted a regime. I should have been wary when I started the week on fresh fish and pasta and was given the new name ‘pachyderm’. Since then, it’s been strictly kibble and that human throwing itself between me and digestives shouting ‘NO!’ Females, eh? Embarrassing. I am allowed only a dog treat from an opening in a nearby building. Even for this, I must jump. Occasionally, when I locate it, I mark the vehicle of ‘the one who calls me Fred’ and then my human rewards me.

As these days pass, I spend more time challenging the sea – it keeps moving and remains defiantly undrinkable. I persist. To hide my frustration, I dig furiously into the sand. Sometimes, even I am disgusted by what I discover there. And don’t get me started on the state of the nearby park. Humans! Ugh! Mine still won’t let me ‘clean’ the super-old bits of town, though. Ungracious.

Time flies, now to have a wash, take a walk, find dirt, have another wash, and choose a bed unchewed by she whose time will come. Her head fits in my jaw. Just sayin’. To sleep to dream of treats…

Frank ‘Scrapper’ Tyke, his mark

 

Categories
Loving

Sometimes a Woman Needs…

Sometimes a woman needs a man who is a brother friend more than she needs a romantic attachment. She needs someone who is strong enough to say to her, “Say baby, the way you acted the other night, that’s not right, or that wasn’t the swiftest thing you could do.” At the same time she needs him to be strong enough to say, “Hey baby that was so brilliant, I am so proud of you, you were wonderful!”

Maya Angelou

Categories
Thinking

In the Summer

In the summer
I stretch out on the shore
And think of you
Had I told the sea
What I felt for you,
It would have left its shores,
Its shells,
Its fish,
And followed me.

Nizar Qabbani
Translation: B. Frangieh And C. Brown

Categories
Thinking

Ithaka

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

Categories
Thinking

Julie

A year ago, I dreamt this with great clarity. When I woke, I wrote it down.

Julie is nine. She’s English. She has long, straight hair which swings long past her shoulders and is cut with a fringe touching her eyebrows. Under the fringe her large, dark round eyes stand out. Her hair is such a dark brown it’s almost black. Her skin is pale, even paler against the darkness of her hair. Julie has an older sister called Laura. She’s still at school, too. Julie and Laura’s parents are middle-aged now, and still together. They are comfortably married and not about to change that. They all live at number 10. It’s a white house just in the countryside, on the edge of conurbation. There is, however, a busy trunk road between number 10 and another (now deserted) house opposite where a female partridge takes up residence in the yard at night. There’s also a child-minder living and working nearby, a young, dark woman with a very calm demeanor.

Julie is there, but not there. She knows it, her family knows it. But they know it differently – she can see them, but they can’t see her. They can feel her. She wants to get back to them very much and is trying very hard, but can’t. She simply can’t. Her parents lie awake in bed at night and talk about her. She hears them. She watches them. Her sister draws pictures for Julie and puts them up in the stairwell of the family home. Simple drawings, using colored pencils, Julie sees them and draws more on them. She wants her sister to know. She’s trying very hard.

This all begins one evening; Julie hears something while she’s holding a potted flowering plant (she likes pink ‘weathered’ anemones). She’s going to give the plant as a gift. There’s a man, he threatens her. He’s in his late thirties, possibly older, with short black hair and black-framed glasses. He’s very angry. That’s when Julie starts being there, but not there.

Categories
Living

15 August

It’s one of four major public holidays here. There are others observed, of course, along with local and family occasions. But this is one of the four big ones, declared also by government as obligatory. This day, on Christian calendars worldwide, is one to celebrate Mary, Jesus’ mother. Here, for the Eastern Orthodox, today marks her Dormition: literally, her ‘falling asleep’. Today has indeed dawned sleepily.

I live on a commercial street, above a bakery and a printing press – this street never sleeps. The road normally hums, judders and splutters with a trail of traffic from 6am onwards (this is not to discount the explosion of unlicensed scooter engines under the balcony from bakery customers at 4am, you understand). Parents call down the street to their children, workmen move their loads from warehouse to van to shop to delivery, shoppers shout their bread orders across the street (too lazy to leave their cars or bikes and enter the bakery). Today, the needle’s off the record.

You can feel the space between the vehicles on the road. There’s been no shouting (not even the Anglo-Saxon expletives which punctuate the day from the Albanian workman remodeling the upstairs apartment). The bakery and the printing press are closed. Those who can are sleeping late, those who can’t are already at work (visitors still need to be catered for). For everyone, the aspiration is a day of rest – ideally spent with family. I’m under doctor’s orders to rest my injured leg, so the rest of me has to follow suit. Today, whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, I wish you the peace you desire on this day of Dormition.