Pam worked at the frontisterio through the winter, and because she was teaching local children, thought it a good idea to learn Greek, even though her pupils were supposed to be studying English. She took tuition on a one-to-one basis with her boss, the talented multi-linguist Marilena, but even with her diligence, determination and self motivation Pam could never get her head round the language completely, yet she was streets ahead of me.
Panagis, at the El Greco taverna found it funny that I should be finding Greek so difficult to learn, while at the same time honestly believing English was easy, which of course it isn't, and I told him so.
'Panagis, when English is spoken correctly, it is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, to speak, and what's more, to understand.'
However, unavoidably and boringly the language comparison became an ever recurring bone of contention with him as well as others, and when it did I used the word TO in the following short sentence to prove my point with English: ‘The TWO of us are going TO the beach TOmorrow, will you come TOO?’ That really made their minds boggle. English easy? Why do you think it took me so long to write this book?
In my continued search for The Gallery I looked at what seemed to be ideal premises close to Antico, one of the most popular cafés in the Lithostroto. The television hadn’t worked its linguistic magic, and because the owner of the property didn't speak English, Stathis agreed to be my interpreter for the meeting. But it proved to be a pointless exercise, and the owner turned out to be no different to the others I'd met with Dimitris, because as well as asking for a huge rent he expected me to commit myself there and then. As before, negotiations were one way, but that’s how it was, all or nothing, with the owners expecting me to make important decisions on impulse.
It was only January, so moving in and paying a high rent, and air, the prospect of selling little, or nothing, didn’t appeal to me. I’m not a hard nosed businessman, but knew the majority of my sales would be to summer visitors, and they wouldn't be arriving until May.
By now Pub Old House had become my local, so one evening I asked Lefteris about Café Mystique.
‘Lefteri, who owns the property next door, the café, it’s been empty since I've been living on the island and I wondered if it was available to rent?’
He peered over his glasses in that old fashioned way of his, and said, ‘Peter, if you want Mystique I can arrange it, but you would have to make a contract with the owner (who also owned most of the street, including The Pub), but pay the rent to me. It would be better if you saw it in the day, speak to Colin and arrange to meet him there.’ Which I did.
It was sound advice, but the more I thought about the rent agreement the more Kefalonian it sounded: complicated, without too much logic. I’d only ever seen the building at night, whereas in daylight it looked totally different (which, I suppose is only natural). The exterior was painted in pastel shades of blue and peach that contrasted nicely with the dark brown window frames and wooden double doors forming the impressive front entrance, which was approached by semi-circular brick and tiled steps. The east facing front windows looked out onto a narrow concrete patio and the street known as Harbouri. On the other side of Harbouri Street was a small square adjoining a much larger open space that bordered the busy Rizospaston Street some fifty meters away. A huge single window in the south elevation looked across the narrow road to a residential apartment block. At the rear of the building was a small concrete yard, almost hidden by overgrown trees and bushes. It was also where the entrance to the adjoining rear apartment was, which the owner used periodically, but mainly in the summer as a holiday retreat.
After looking round the outside we went indoors, and what a mess! Lefteris’s two teenage sons Nicolas and Alexander, along with their mates, had hung out there and amassed all kinds of junk and rubbish, the majority of which was oily bike parts. In amongst the bike bits were remnants of the former café days; empty bottles, glasses and ashtrays. The internal walls were painted a deep blue and the ceiling was a rather smoke stained shade of mustard yellow.
Below the shelving that covered the back wall were handy sized storage cupboards, and in one was a small but useful water heater. But without a doubt the most outstanding feature of the whole place was the bar. Sometimes my mind works in mysterious ways, because as I followed Colin up the steps and through the door, my first thoughts were, ‘That bar will have to go.’
Then as my senses and sanity gradually returned I realised it was the centrepiece, and my irrational thinking could be best described as a sudden rush of blood to the head. The bar had a highly varnished wooden top along its full length and behind it was a stainless steel double drainer sink, a freezer that didn’t work and a clapped out fridge with a six inch nail that held the door shut. Tucked away behind a blue door in the far corner was the toilet and wash-room, which, like the rest of the Café had a tiled floor. That was The Gallery.
Despite the mess it was ideal, so Lefteris agreed that I could move in on May 1st. That suited me fine as it coincided with the start of the season. It suited him too, because he'd been approached by other 'entrepreneurs' wanting to turn it into all sorts of money making ventures that included a music bar, a gay bar, and of all things, a late night drinking bar. Direct competition was the last thing Lefteris wanted, and the last thing the local residents needed was another late bar of any description on their doorsteps; one was enough.
Pub Old House was the ultimate late bar and closed only when the last customers left, which could be any time, even as the dawn was breaking.
As that big warm smile lit his face, Lefteris said, ‘Peter, at least The Gallery will be peaceful, and you won’t be causing any disturbances at night.’
No, I wouldn't be disturbing anything or anybody. There was no intention of changing anything structurally to Café Mystique either, indoors or out. The bar would definitely stay, and along with my artwork it would become the focal point of The Gallery. Colin (who, conveniently was a general handyman) was more than willing to help with any work and ended up doing most of it; it was more a case of me helping him than him helping me. But despite any work that Colin and I did, there would also be the mind boggling task of cutting through the miles of Greek red tape involved in the setting up of any new business.
Treating My Feet
Suddenly, without warning Spring arrived, and with it came the re-birth of Kefalonian colour that overnight became a dazzling tapestry across the landscape. By the end of February the storms were less frequent and there was real warmth in the air. Winter, if there really had been one, slipped by almost unnoticed, and unless the weather was particularly bad Pam and I walked every day.
One of my favourite walks was across the Lassi beaches, starting at the Mediterranee Hotel, crossing to the adjoining Antonio Beach and ending up at Makris Yialos where I walked back and forth along the water line to treat my feet. It was a way of giving them the full benefit of natural treatment, a miracle mix of salt and sand which had been recommended by Mike, a chiropodist friend in the UK; and it worked.
As well as loving the Special Place, Pam and I had a couple of other favourite walks. One was the track along the 'ridgeway' to the monument that continued, winding its way down through the pines to the Katavothres water holes. The other was a goat trail skirting the water’s edge between Fanari and Lassi. At the end of that trail was a hideaway, a natural sun trap hidden from view where we often sat relaxing in the sun. It became affectionately known to us as the pulpit rock because of the shape of the large rock that dominated it. It was fascinating to watch sea life ebbing and flowing with the gentle tide in and out of a small rock pool there.
The pulpit rock was in fact one of a number of ruined Italian anti-aircraft gun posts, several of which had been built (and subsequently destroyed) along that stretch of water. They were built in 1943 to repel German aircraft as they attacked Argostoli and its coastline from their base in Lixouri.
As I've already established we loved walking, but the locals looked upon us as ‘that odd English couple’, which didn’t concern us in the least, because being odd meant we were just ‘fitting in’ with everybody else.
When asked how often and how far we walked, people frowned in disbelief when we told them, prompting the following question, ‘Why do you walk when you could drive?’
To which there was only one answer, ‘We don’t drive because we haven't got a car.’