Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote Roumeli mainly in the late 1950s and early 1960s (although published in 1966),    It follows on from   Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (1958).     PLF was just able to see enough of some of the old traditions to be able to write about them.   The book starts off by PLF attending a Sarakatsan wedding.    The invitation is described as being the result of a chance encounter, but it later emerges that PLF had in fact had a number of encounters with them over the years (and possibly spoke the dialect).   The Sarakatsans were nomadic shepherds, moving between the mountainous pastures in summer and the lowlands in the winter.   Although their origins aren’t very clear,  for  hundreds of years they lived lives dictated by tradition and beliefs, involving  an elaborate ritualisation of almost every aspect of their lives, from costume to the moral code, involving some aspects that we would now consider very harsh. 

Apparently many aspects of this way of life endured well into the 20th century, yet within a few decades (starting before the time of PLF’s book), it appears that  they have now been urbanised and assimilated (although cultural centres exist to remind people of their former lifestyle).  

PLF then goes on to describe the Meteora monasteries.   He describes his visit to a number of them, particularly St Barlaam.    At the time he wrote, he estimated that there were only about a dozen monks left in all the Meteora monasteries.    However, I read that that   today there are approximately 50 nuns and 17 monks still living in the six active monasteries of Meteora (out of an original twenty-four).

We did a tour of Meteora in 2000.     To my surprise, although the monasteries we visited (I think we visited two, but my memory fails me as to the details) looked almost inaccessible, in fact there was a road to a buspark not far from an entrance!    I can’t remember too many details of the monasteries themselves;  I suspect that the location was the attraction rather than the interior!    But PLF describes the ascent (perhaps to a different monastery?) as “a narrow flagged ascent between overpowering volumes of rock, winding among boulders and twisted plane trees”.     I guess that the intervening years have resulted in changes occurring! 

Meteora – not a great photo, from 2000 pre-digital.   Google tells me that my photo is the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (Aghia Triada), but i remain uncertain.  It might be Barlaam.

Of course, in typical PLF fashion, his detailed descriptions are interspersed with long dissertations about historical and linguistic matters, sometimes in great detail.     A long chapter concerned with the “Helleno-Romaic Dilemma”.  This is obviously an issue for PLF, this being his term for the  inherent conflicts that he sees in the Greek inheritance—the tenuous links to the classical and Byzantine heritage, the legacy of Ottoman domination, as against the post 1820’s Greece.  The Romios are those living in the shadows of Byzantium.     His view is that modern Greeks see themselves as descended from the Romios, but when the Turks were driven out, it was not a modern Roman Empire of the  East which emerged but a “Hellas”,  centred on Athens.     PLF puts forward a theory that both figures live within modern Greeks.    He develops the characteristics at some length, including setting out in a table 64 attributes and the treatment of each in each tradition.    All fair enough, but I wonder if he over-thinks the position?

He then expounds at some length about the Cretan mentality, drawing on his extensive wartime experience when he lived in the mountains of Crete.  

Although these dissertations were of some interest to me, they weren’t what I expected given that the sub-title is “Travels in Northern Greece”.    But his mastery of the Greek language, and its dialects, shines through, as well as his knowledge of other languages. 

After this, he then reverts to the subject matter of the book, describing a few days in Astakos.   It’s not clear why he headed there, and he certainly found the place depressing:  he refers to the dead dog on the road, the fly-blown streets, the sluggish sea, the blighting heat and the stricken and tormented nights.   So at least PLF is prepared to admit that Greece has an underbelly.     But his journey then by caique led him to Missolonghi,  in search of a pair of Lord Byron’s shoes.    The full story is too long to summarise here. but the upshot was that the shoes were in fact located and their authenticity seemed evident.  

 Very much a typical PLF book.

New clinic

The former cosmetic procedures clinic closed down rather suddenly after some bad publicity – see here.     At the time I last posted, the premises  appeared unused.

Now, a few months later, the premises have come back to life – as a “skin clinic”.    Do I detect a similar underlying theme here?  I wonder.    But no mention on the website (that I could find) as to who is behind this new operation.

Pictures – phone or camera?

The camera on my (not so new now)  phone is quite sophisticated and for the most part, I’ve been happy with the quality of the pictures I’ve been getting.   In fact, the pictures are so good that I’ve asked the question:   is it even necessary also to have a camera?

Camera on phone has 3 lenses

My camera is best described, I suppose, as a middle of the range model.   It’s quite sophisticated, but doesn’t have a super-expensive lens.    However, it has more functions than the phone, enabling greater control.    But the automatic functions on the phone camera do cover most situations.

Perhaps the main issue I have with the phone camera is that the controls are rather “fiddly”, and a slight touch in the wrong part of the screen can lead to various menus coming up that I don’t have an interest in.    This is prone to happen at the wrong time, and so can  interfere with the taking of pictures.   Likewise, the zoom feature is very sensitive and it’s sometimes tricky to get a precise setting.

In short, the camera is easier and more reliable to use than the phone, and is preferable when I want to rely on the more intricate functions.  But of course, I often have the phone with me, whereas carrying the camera requires a conscious decision.   So although I’m using the phone for more pictures, I’m definitely not putting the camera away.    I still take the camera along with me when I think I’ll need to take “serious” photos.

Qantas/Jetstar flights

So, Qantas has come clean that it’s cutting flights – see here.       Apparently Jetstar are also included.    We were booked on a carefully chosen Jetstar flight to return  from Cairns in a few weeks time – then got an email from Jetstar stating that we had been transferred to a 7.15 pm flight – 4 hours later.   And then that flight was rescheduled to operate even later (after 8 pm).

Yes, I know, if you book well in advance to take advantage of the cheaper fares that are usually available by doing to, you run the risk of flight changes.     But to be re-scheduled on a flight 4 hours later?  A spokesperson is quoted as saying that the rescheduled flight would be “usually within 1-2 hours”.    Well, a lot longer than that in our case.  

To make the matter worse, when I checked the website, I saw that the original flight was still there, albeit 45 minutes later.   I don’t know whether it had been reinstated, but we weren’t on it.     An on-line change to the booking would have incurred fees, so I resorted to the “on line chat” facility (as instructed in the email telling us of the change).   That came up with a screen to the effect that unless we’re travelling in the next 48 hours, please go away.     Well, I hung on in there, and after a wait of about 15 minutes there was a response – and yes, we were reinstated to our preferred flight without any hassle.  But I still don’t know why were we put through all this.

A Brief History of Italy (2)

I read most of Jeremy Black’s book but I borrowed it again from the library because I had only skimmed the last few chapters.   My “take away” is that the history of Italy even since 1861 (when the kingdom of Italy came into being under Victor Emmanual) has been just as complex as in the centuries before that.

It took a while for Italy as we know it today to come together, and it was a complex process.     The process is summarised here.    The concept of a united Italy was encouraged by the Risogimento – the movement for Italian unification that culminated in the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.      It received support internationally, from people such as William Gladstone, William Wordsworth and Charles Dickens and even Lord Byron at an early stage.

After the failure of liberal and republican revolutions in 1848, leadership passed to Piedmont.    With French help, the Piedmontese defeated the Austrians in 1859 and united most of Italy under their rule by 1861.    The annexation of Venetia in 1866 and papal Rome in 1870 marked the final unification of Italy       Venetia became part of Italy in 1866 when the Prussians (with whom the Italians were in an alliance) defeated the Austrians at Sadowa in modern Czech and pressed on towards Vienna, resulting in the Austrians (who until then had still been ruling Venetia) surrendering it.   The Papal States were incorporated in 1870, when Napoleon III who had been offering protect to the papacy withdrew his troops (needed because of a looming conflict with Germany)  and the Italian forces moved into the resulting vacuum.

The decades ahead were just as complex – in line with the rest of Italian history!

Black also touches on the social and economic issues have also been important factors throughput the history of Italy.    Italy in the 19th century has been described as “economically backward”, often with very poor living conditions, although there were differences between the regions.    For example, unification led to a free entry of northern goods in the south, affecting employment levels. and a contributing factor behind large-scale emigration

On-line buying

There are certain things in our house that we now often buy on-line.    These include toner for the printer (so much cheaper than Officeworks) and wine.   Yes, there is a Dan Murphy nearby and we sometimes go there, but there’s a good choice on-line and it saves the effort and hassle of getting it home.    But in spite of the numerous emails from supermarkets, we haven’t taken to on-line grocery shopping.    I suppose the fact that we have three supermarkets within walking distance means we don’t feel the need for deliveries.

However, the time had come for a new remote for the TV.    I saw a generic universal control at K-mart, but before I bought it, I thought I ought to google these things to see if they work.    

The results were inconclusive at best, but I did come across a site that offered what it stated to be remotes compatible with our TV.     Better than trying to program a “universal” remote I thought, so I went ahead an ordered it on-line even though it cost more than the K-mart version.     There were a few complimentary testimonials supposedly from motels, so I thought that was a positive!

The results were good:  the item tuned out to all appearances to be identical to the original remote, even to the brand name on it (hence presumably genuine), it arrived (by post) surprisingly quickly – and, best of all, it worked perfectly first time!

The Jumbo Restaurant

Hong Kong’s Jumbo Restaurant is no more.    It was being moved but capsized and sunk.

I read that it was famed for its lavish banquet meals, with dishes such as roasted suckling pig, lobster and double-boiled bird’s nest, a Chinese delicacy.     But it was forced to close in 2020 due to the pandemic, and all staff were laid off.

We visited it in 2016.    Our misunderstanding was that we just wanted a simple meal and a drink, and this wasn’t the best place to have it.   But they were polite, and we “ticked” the Jumbo floating restaurant box!