Where was I? Oh yes, the dawning of Day 5. What with meetings to plan Remembrance Sunday on 11th November this year and trips to Dublin, I hardly have a minute and I am supposed to be retired and feet up. Let me just tell you or at least those of you who are contemplating retirement. Don’t! The older you get the more people want of your time. The older you are, the wiser you become, the more younger folk depend on you for decisions that matter.
Yes Day 5, I had promised myself was going to be a day of lethargy, a day to recharge, a day to sit, scratch your testes and do nowt. We shall see. It is now 7.45am and the sun has once again just risen over the Albanian hills to my left, whilst I sit writing at the massive table on the massive verandha, looking down on Corfu Town starting to shimmer in this early morning haze. It is like nowhere else I have ever been and still after four days I cannot stop swooning over the panorama. The local Corfiots have this 365 days a year and they have kind of learnt to live with their economic stresses. Cash is their god and while its there they milk it while they can and who can blame them, while Europe and their country skin them alive but at least this gruesome aspect of their lives is softened every morning by the magnificent panorama all around them.
Before lethargy however a quick trip up to the bakers in Spartilas. On our spiralling ascent we come across the fishmonger in his van, who daily climbs the mountain selling yesterday’s catch to the women of the hill, calling them out on his tannoy. His sounds go before him up the early slopes and the women are out minutes before he arrives for an early morning chat and catch up, a community thing that is as important as the fish. We buy an octopus and a kilo of sardines. I am going to try and recreate the dish I had previously in Agios Stephanos. I have one problem, how do you prepare octopus for the pot?
We buy our bread and return to meet our two ladies who look after us who had just arrived in their 4×4, a very necessary mode of transport in this environment. I put to them in my best Irish Sea Greek my conundrum. They grasped my tentacle straight away, cleaned out the sink thoroughly and set to work. The octopus is like the pig, every bit is used in some form or other. However in this case, having discussed the proposed menu, she leaves out its brainbox and ink sac. The rest is washed and shaken with some vigour. They left me to start their labours while I consulted Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean Cooking a book written 60 years ago but still as lively today. Elizabeth in her own laconic style explains in about 50 words how to cook this dish which is going to take me hours to fashion, but first down to Ipsos for ingredients.
Into a large pot put in some olive oil and a few sliced onions, a clove or two of garlic and roughly chop plenty of tomatoes. This octopus cleaned weighs 1.3 kilos, so pour in half a litre of passata, chop up the creatures body and tentacles into mouth-sized pieces and chuck them in the pot with a desert spoon of sweet paprika and pour in red wine to cover and simmer for about two hours. Salt and plenty of pepper as it cooks, tasting the sauce frequently. With an hour to go peel as many small waxy potatoes as you fancy and chuck them in the mix and Voila!!, a feast for a king, mopped up with the fresh bread.
Everybody enjoyed it, especially the mopping up of the sauce when octopus and potatoes were consumed. I cooked okra separately and it seemed to suit the dish. The whole was washed down by some with copious quantities of local wine. We have taken quite a delight in drinking this unfiltered pure wine and take every opportunity of emptying the plastic water bottles in which it comes from the various wine makers of the mountain. Because we are in the vintage, we walked up to one of these wineries this morning after we had bought bread. It was just a little stone hut on the side of the snaking road through the village. Two men were there with a press apiece, sweating and struggling powerfully with the screw arrangement that presses the grapes and produces the must. In the early morning heat the beads of sweat from off their brows were dripping into the pure grape juice and adding to the flavour. The must then ran off through a cast iron culvert and was caught in discarded plastic baby baths, which must in a previous life washed plenty of shit off young arses. When nearly full these baths were lifted and tipped into a large plastic vat of about 500 litre capacity where I presume it spent the winter. Their was no evidence of barrelling or other storage capacity, but I have to say that this very basic production process produces earthy (rustic) fruity wine that is a pleasure to drink.
The rest of Day 5 was as promised, complete and unadulterated lethargy as we watched the kids burn themselves out in the pool and we also dissolve into glorious and well earned sleep. My usual early start and the climbing sun tells of the 30C+ temperatures ahead. We shall see what is in store today but breakfast first before the house awakens. There is a cup of broth from yesterday’s octopus in the fridge, I eat it cold like gaspacho, the paprika has done it good, the day old bread is as good as yesterday. I followed that with a sliced peach and two or three large dollops of thick Macedonian yoghurt which will set me fair for the day. Jessica is the first one up after me and immediately has the coffee pot going which is de rigueur for those from Perpignan and she places a cup of this early nectar in front of me. I am spoilt.
From mayhem to quietude all in the space of five seconds as my children with their children and a load of aunties go off in the hired Mercedes people carrier, leaving Helen and myself to do all the washing up and shit shifting after the early morning activity. The time is 10.30am, they are all off to Aqualand, with its slides and wave machines. Even though we have too lovely and hard working maids I cannot find it within myself to leave dirty pots and pans and crockery for them to wash up even though they would do it all without a murmur. Call me new age if you like. It is 32C already and for us there are 9o minutes of relaxation and reading on the verandah before heading for the cool air at the top of the mountain and the taverna a la Palea for more delicious mountain grub.
After our lunch we ascended the mountain, Mount Pantokratur, which turned out in the finish to be a hell raising drive with mind bending drops at every twist and turn, it eventually got too much for Helen and she asked to return down hill which ain’t too easy on in parts a 3.6 metre wide road. I stopped on the last hairpin and hesitatingly dropped into reverse and backed up to this 500 ft drop. My rear wheels came to rest about a foot from this precipice and slowly I eased the gearstick into forward gear and breathed a sigh of relief as we coasted downhill. It would have been easier to keep going up, there was reputedly a church, a taverna and a radio mast at the top but you all know how insistant ladies can be. However we had fantastic views northwards towards Venice and the Balkan states, eastwards to Albania and southwards to Greece and Crete and westwards to the lots of small inhabited islands off the Corfiotan coast and beyond to Bari and the heel of Italy.
We returned to the ranch after stopping off for our nights rations of local plonk to be greeted with an avalanche of e-mails to while away the heat of the day. I had to be reminded that today is Saturday, I hadn’t a clue, time seems to run differently here.
The young returned from Aqualand and the peace was broken. Mayhem resumed. Where would we be without it. The confidence these kids have gained in the water this week is mighty. They all hit the pool like cross channel swimmers. The two two year olds who looked with disdain at the pool a few days ago, now attack it with gusto giving their parents and Jessica plenty to think about. The children retired knackered from their day’s sport and we older ones enjoyed another barbecue with yesterday’s sardines and attendant cool drinks to the fore.
Early to bed ourselves with Day 7 to look forward to. The night was very warm, even the air conditioning in our bedrooms was struggling. I was up early at 5.30am and spent an hour on my kindle reading of the travels round Europe in the 1880s of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, Victoria’s eldest son and in 20 years time to become Edward VI. Now there was a lively guy.