Written during our holiday in June:
So here I am, sat on our balcony with a panoramic view of Parga and the Ionian Sea beyond.
Having booked three weeks in Greece I came with the best of intentions – I was going to write at least 1000 words a day (not exactly a tall order, let’s face it) and by the end of our holiday I would have completed the first draft of my novel. Only somehow it hasn’t quite worked out that way, but on the plus side, the triggers for writing material just keep coming.
We start our holiday in the north of Corfu in Roda; our apartment is tucked down a little alley between two tavernas. It overlooks an abandoned hotel, the windows are all shuttered up like closed eyes and the swimming pool is full of long grass. A sign of the times yes, but what would Stephen King make of it?
The apartment is a writing inspiration in itself. The predominant theme is red; red flock wallpaper; red sequinned bed covers and large multicoloured plastic chandeliers. The walls are adorned with feathered Pierrot masks. Should I ever have the need to write about (or indeed decide to invest my pension pot in) a bordello, I will draw on the décor of the Pepitsa apartments.
But I put the abandoned hotel and the bordello on my mental back burner and in the first two very cloudy days produce 2,600 words.
Then the weather warms up and we slow down. It is hard to be creative in 26 degrees after a long lunch which involves a glass or two of retsina. On the third day I am settling down to write and there is a knock on the door; on the doorstep is a warm dumpling of a lady who immediately cups my face in her hands, says “You have beautiful blue eyes” and gives me a bear hug, swallowing me up in her enormous bosom. This is Pepitsa, our landlady who also hugs my husband as if she has known him for years. She stays for an hour and gives us her view of the world and I think that listening to Pepitsa is an hour well spent.
Writing progress is slow for the rest of our stay in Corfu; we drop into third gear, some days not even getting out of neutral. We go for long walks, we have an evening picnic on the beach and enjoy the fabulous spectacle of a crimson sun slipping below the horizon, and in the heat, we chill.
There are things you do on holiday which you would never do back home; we eat warm croissants from the local bakery for breakfast, drink cocktails in a gay bar listening to Boney M (though I have no idea why a cocktail which includes Baileys and amaretto should taste like Benylin). And I write on a weekday afternoon but though I want to feel inspired, somehow the words are not flowing from brain to keyboard.
After ten days we pack up and take two buses and a ferry and arrive in Parga on the west coast of mainland Greece. We love this place; we have been here twice before and if feels like coming home. We see the same faces around town and in the tavernas and we are on the receiving end of incredible Greek hospitality.
People we speak to seem surprised and pleased that we are speaking Greek (in truth, my husband is speaking Greek; I can just about order food in a taverna, buy tickets for the water taxi and understand basic greetings). They chat to us, give us an extra glass of wine. But perhaps they would have done that anyway, because Greek hospitality is part of their DNA, although on this holiday we find it goes far beyond what we expected.
When we arrived in Parga our landlady Mahi who doesn’t speak any English, brings us coffee and cakes; the next morning (just after we have finished breakfast) she arrives with cheese and ham toasties and a bowl of fruit. When I go to borrow a hairdryer she says “Περίμενε” – “wait” and gives me tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, a bottle of olive oil and a large bowl of glossy black olives. The next day a large bowl of peaches, some biscuits, half a dozen eggs and an enormous jar of honey appears. In the days that follow we are given a punnet of ripe juicy strawberries, two enormous servings of pastichio (meat with macaroni), a chocolate torte, cherries, more eggs, lemons, feta cheese. We have paid our rent, she does not have to do this but she does, because this is Greek hospitality.
The Greek people are all struggling; our neighbour, Andreana, who rents the apartment next door, tells us that she is a primary school teacher and that her wages have been cut twice; she tells us there are not enough books in the school and friends give her paper and pencils. She says that the Greek people have lost their soul. But she is happy to chat to us, lends us Greek story books and offers to drive us anywhere that we may want to go.
We are happy to see that Parga is buzzing; God knows now, more than ever, they need a good tourist season. Today it is raining and the thunder is exploding overhead; perhaps the Greek gods are stamping their feet. No matter; perhaps more tourists will find their way into the coffee shops and because it is a day to stay indoors I am writing again. I am not prolific though I get more written on holiday than any other time of year.
Yesterday Andreana saw me sitting on the balcony tapping away; she raised her eyebrows and says (in Greek) “are you working?” Because I am on holiday, I indulge in one small fantasy and I say. “όχι, ειμαι μια συγγραφέα” – “No, I am a writer”.