THE ISLAND CALLED SURREAL

The next post will be on or before Thursday 1st November

THE ISLAND CALLED SURREAL

Living on a small and obscure Greek island you would expect things to be considerably different, a mite more primitive and ad hoc compared to sophisticated Athens, and even more so than say genteel Canterbury UK and even legendarily cosmopolitan New York, USA. The choices you have when confronted by something that seems preposterous or outright crazy, or even blatantly cruel, are to either laugh or be angry or be sad, and most often you will find yourself juggling frustratingly with all three inadequate options.

Let’s start with the undeniably comical. There are 4 busy supermarkets here in the port and I will anonymise them as Corinth 1 and Corinth 2 and Patras and Sparti (no relation, I promise, of your beloved  local Spar). Sizeable Corinth 1 and the much smaller Corinth 2, are owned by the same family and are about a mile apart.  Corinth 1 supplies all the goods to be found in its satellite Corinth 2, meaning anything should be the same price in both shops. Alas, and if only it were thus. In Corinth 1, a tin of kidney beans costs 75 cents and in Corinth 2 the identical tin costs 1 euro 80 cents, i.e. well over twice as much. It has been like that for the last 5 years and no one including me has the nerve to point out the puzzling inconsistency, or maybe they don’t even notice it. As a vegetarian cook I ingeniously solve the problem simply by taking a rucksack and buying my kidney beans en masse from Corinth 1, a bracing 20 minute walk from where I live. Meanwhile in arguably dubious Corinth 2 a 250g pack of standard Lavazza coffee is 5.20 euros and of the decaffeinated kind 3.90, which more or less corresponds to the price differences everywhere in Greece aside from baffling island Supermarket Patras just up the road. There the standard quality coffee is also 5.20, but the decaf variant is, as in some nightmare should you be allergic to caffeine, outrageously expensive: 7.70 euros, or nearly twice as much as in Corinth 2. Note that all these prices are more or less crazy and extortionate in UK supermarket terms, but for anyone in the known universe to be asking £7 for a crumpled little pack of Italian decaf is surely absolutely, transcendentally nuts. For a start Greek wages are about 60% of UK wages, and even worse a dietician friend of mine informs me any decaf coffee, no matter how posh the brand name, is actually more hazardous than the standard kind on account of the brutish chemical process applied to remove the noxious caffeine.

Now let’s turn to dogs and their peculiar situation on this island. Take note I won’t be mentioning cats as I have adverted to them so many times on these pages, and also be aware that the number of dogs on the whole of the island, only one of them a pitiably homeless stray, amounts to a tiny fraction of the feline and invariably feral population. In the old days Greek animal welfare used to be non-existent, partly a function of the fact that within living memory (an appalling Fascist junta ruled the country 1967-1974) Greece was a conspicuously poor nation. More than 40 years on, out in the countryside it is still the frequent and obnoxious practice that when a dog is no longer a pup, it is turned into a farmer’s guard dog and will be tied up with a barrel for its permanent home. It will never be released nor given exercise in its lifetime, and the only attention it will get will be its daily food and the occasional removal of its excrement. And here we need to point out the obvious, namely that old-fashioned Greeks and especially dyed in the wool rural smallholders, simply cannot imagine what it is like to be an animal, indeed it would be regarded as an idiocy to do so, nor that to be chained to a barrel for eternity is any kind of torment as such. So it is that when people live historically hard lives, they are not usually tender about the feelings of working animals, much less feral cats or feral dogs. Nevertheless, I am pleased to report that miracles can happen, and things can change beyond belief, and I was fascinated last year to talk to a German lady who has lived in Kypseli, Athens for many years. Kypseli is one of the poorer parts of the city and she said that in the 80s and 90s its inhabitants did not hide their severe dislike of ‘unhygienic’ dogs and resented any foreigner such as herself bringing one into its confines, even if they kept it on a lead and had trained it not to bark. But now, these days, behold Kypseli and especially its legendary Fokonos Tou Negri Square is unashamed Dog City and like my native West Cumbria, is steaming dog-daft. Now in 2018 its citizens proudly and adoringly parade their poodles, Alsatians, Great Danes, Borzois, spaniels,  and cross ply lolloping mutts (notable for their splendid mongrel hybrid vigour) day and night and nothing is more delightful than to see a pintsize Yorkshire terrier and a donkey sized Great Dane sporting together like Laurel and Hardy in blissful amity.

Now back to Kythnos. If you walk to the far end of the bay here in the port there are an extended bunch of 1970s white painted flats, all with flat roofs, most likely built in the Junta era. About a year ago a young local couple with 2 little boys and a baby girl acquired a beautiful young cross-bred pup and for the first few weeks lavished a very moving affection on it, including unheard of things like sedate walks on leads and even taking it off in their 4 wheel drive for real walks, for strenuous and hilarious exercise in far flung bays. Then as anyone might have predicted the novelty all too obviously wore off. So what did they do, meaning what executive decision did the parents, the responsible adults in this poignant scenario, take apropos something they had tired of? They could have had the dog put to sleep by the island vet as others might have, but instead they ingeniously decided to confine it up there on the flat roof which it clearly never ever leaves. It is not allowed in their house now that it is no longer a gorgeous pup, nor incredibly is it chained up for its own safety. Instead it is free to run to the perimeters of the very high roof, and from there it barks loudly at all the passers-by, though thankfully shows no signs of kamikaze leaping. The one saving grace of its bloody awful Simon Stylites existence, and it is no thanks to its deplorable owners, is that it is clearly not distressed by its aerial incarceration. If it were it would whine or howl but instead all it ever does is bark and race backwards and forwards with excitement at the approach of sundry strangers, very often oblivious yachtie tourists.

I think I am just possibly the only one in the port who notices this crazy top floor banishment and is at all upset by it. If anyone did this in the UK half the surrounding population would be ringing the RSPCA and putting mugshots of the neglectful culprits on fb, so that the couple would panickingly race up there onto the Fascist Junta flat roof and retrieve the dog and stick it on a cushioned sofa in their best sitting room with a couple of brisola chops to gnash on, and the telly tuned to vintage episodes of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, just to let the animal know it was in fact worthy of being genuinely loved and had not after all been born in vain.

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