Week 464

Sunday, 12th November, 2017

Giacomo Puccini sits in Lucca

I have written before of my on-off relationship with music. For 40 years, I have loved classical music and found it particularly informed my emotional and intellectual life. In the early years, I particularly loved Chopin, Mozart and Rachmaninov. Later, I just couldn’t get enough Beethoven to the point that I was becoming a real bore about his Symphonies. There came a point, in my late 40s when I started to take Opera seriously. Puccini, Donizetti, Verdi, Mozart, Delibes, Bizet – I had to know everything. I bought guides to help me understand their music and the libretti. I would drive Pauline mad by playing them at full volume and trying to sing in Italian (which I do not have) while tears streamed down my face. That is the predominant emotion much music evokes in me.

Giuseppe Verdi sits in Bologna

Suddenly, 10 – 15 years ago I lost my enjoyment completely. I couldn’t understand it. I just kept trying to listen but failed and left it completely. It hurt me – my failure. It worried me – perhaps there was something wrong with me. Is this a sign of early onset dementia? I could find no mentioned parallel. Eventually, I stopped trying. My music library was packed away in a cupboard along with a hi-fi system that was redundant. I shunned music and majored on writing and reading, on politics and political movements.

Today, I made the first tentative start to climb back. I shut myself in the lounge and forced myself to listen. It was an Arts Channel recording of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. I must admit, I had to try very hard to stay with it and I did try to combine reading The Sunday Times along with it but I got through to the end. It was the English National Opera‘s production and sung in English with on-screen titles which I found rather distracting because it pointed up the fairly trite parts of the libretto which Italian gives such import to. However, like some reverse state of alcoholism, I am back on the booze and will try again before I get the jitters. Tomorrow will be Puccini and I will visualise him sitting in the square outside his house in Lucca where we talked this Summer. I hope he will applaud my intentions.

Monday, 13th November, 2017

Lovely Littlehampton or Wonderful Worthing.

Out early on a beautiful morning. Chilly at only 5C/41F but with glorious skies and strong sun. We drove down the coast road to our local hospital. It has recently been graded as Excellent and gives every appearance of being well run. Unlike everywhere else we’ve been, there is lots of parking. The hospital corridors are quiet and empty. The reception areas are well staffed and waiting is at a minimum.

I was there at my own request for an Anti-Coagulation Review. I had already tested myself this morning at 2.4 and my test at the hospital was identical which was a good ‘control’. I discussed my life long use of rat poison and whether there was a better alternative. I have been given information about some other drugs which may be less restrictive on my diet and less demanding on my time in terms of testing and reporting. Apparently, I am free to choose and it will be prescribed for me at the hospital.

Tuesday, 14th November, 2017

We try to go to the Health Club 5 days out of 7. When we do go, we spend an hour in the gym and half an hour in the outside pool. We go when it is quiet so we don’t struggle to get on equipment and we can find a free lane in the pool. The gym is huge and has dozens of pieces of each type of equipment but membership is high. There are three pools and organised classes in the two indoor ones but even in cold weather the outdoor pool is popular as its warm water steams into the atmosphere.

We have an off-peak membership which really has few restrictions. It opens between 6.30 am – 11.00 pm but we have to stop at 4.00 pm so allowing the workers to take precedence in the evening. It opens 7.00 am – 10.00 pm at the weekend but we can’t go until 2.00 pm. All of this suits us perfectly. The cost is £136.00/€152.00 per month or £1632.00/€1824.00 per year for the two of us. Using it around 250 times per year, that works out at £3.25/€3.62 per person per session which seems very reasonable if you compare it with a large cup of coffee on the high street.

We do 40 mins on the treadmill doing fast walk/jogging followed by 20 mins on a cycle. On both of these pieces of equipment, we have individual television screens which really help to pass the time. Outside, the pool is heated throughout the year and steams in cold weather. I do 20 km each week on the treadmill, 35 km each week on the bike and 2.5 km each week in the pool. I aim to do 1000 km each year on the treadmill, 1750 km on the bike and to swim 125 km each year in the outdoor pool. I think that is plenty in my mid 60s. We treat it as a substitute for going to work and try to attend each week day between 1.00 pm – 3.00 pm. It makes us feel better about collecting our pensions.

Wednesday, 15th November, 2017

I’ve just cleaned the car.

A grey but reasonably mild day for mid-November. The poor, low level light of oncoming Winter is a little depressing and I have brief twinges of regret that I am not in the Canary Islands as was intended for the November. It is 23C/74F on Gran Canaria this morning but only 13C/55F here as we park up in our village square. It is not an area that we frequent very often but, this morning, we notice that the butcher is selling locally sourced venison and pheasants. However, they are significantly more expensive than those on sale in the weekly farmers’ market and this is one of the problems with local suppliers.

Around the pool this afternoon, the temperature had reached 15C/60F and our swim was all the better for that. Just a little bit of sun would have helped but you can’t have everything.

Thursday, 16th November, 2017

Lovely day which had reached 15C/60F by 10.00 am as we returned from our weekly shop. The sun had taken quite a long time to appear but, by the time we had done our hour in the gym and were ready to go outside to the pool, the sky was blue and the sun was out. Our swim was lovely. We have been very lucky that the month when we should have been abroad in the sun has turned out to be so benign here.

Greece cannot say the same. It has been hit by heavy rain and subsequent flooding of biblical proportions according to Kathimerini. This has affected islands and mainland. The Dodecanese island of Simi has been declared a disaster area and suburbs of Athens have seen 16 people die with 5 more still missing. It is at times like these that one realises the edge upon which Greek society survives. In good times, the sun shines, the tourists come, the cash tills fill and life is good. It only takes an act of nature to be one strike away from disaster.

On our very first trip to Athens in 1980, we entered our hotel just as a huge rainstorm hit the city. We checked in and were given our key for our room. Fortunately, we chose to climb the stairs because, as we sort out our room, the power went off as torrential rain flooded the externally mounted electric fuse box. Everything went out. We were in total darkness. If we’d taken the lift, we could have been stuck for hours. On another occasion, the streets became like rivers as a storm burst over the city. We tried to rush for shelter down crowded, flooded streets. Suddenly, Pauline just disappeared …. down a manhole where the cover was missing but couldn’t be seen in deep water. I hauled her out shaken but otherwise unhurt but we reflected that it could have been so much worse.

Hints of a Third World country suddenly come to mind as the pavements are poor and broken, the drainage is neglected and blocked, the buildings are poor quality and subject to collapse in extreme weather. Social and Medical services are underfunded and understaffed to deal with the aftermath. It has been worse in the late 70s and early 80s. It has been better in the 2000s before the economic collapse but it does make Greeks feel vulnerable. On Sifnos, a major dam expensively constructed with EU funding immediately turned out to be Gerry-built (although the builder was Cypriot) as soon as it was needed to contain heavy rainfall and the islanders found their prized construction collapsing. These are signs of a First World nation on the surface not really having eradicated their Third World past.

Friday, 17th November, 2017

Less than two weeks left of November. I am still wearing short-sleeved shirts and swimming outside. Today we only reached 13C/56F but, with no trace of a breeze and under clear, blue skies with lovely strong low sun, it felt much warmer. I must admit that, if the pool wasn’t heated, it would be a different . We came home and griddled swordfish steaks in the garden – eaten with salad it was just bliss.

I’ve never been big on celebrations. Birthdays, Anniversaries, Public Holidays are opportunities for nothing special at all. Since a very early age, Christmas has meant nothing to me at all but something to be endured. I used to bitterly resent the fact that there were no newspapers printed and radio and television news just pedalled out the clichéd events of Royal Family attending church, Queen’s Speech, Fake snow everywhere and huge Christmas trees surrounded by perfectly wrapped boxes tied with bows.

There is one thing I did appreciate and that was Christmas Day food. I love turkey and I love sage & onion stuffing. Why do we never eat it all round the year? I often make a resolution to do that and then it disappears into the New Year enthusiasms for dieting, etc.. Not this year. Tomorrow we will not go to the Health Club because it is Christmas Day and Turkey and stuffing will be served. Think we’re mad? We don’t care because we’ve got the turkey. A 4 kilo bird will provide plenty of meat for us hot and cold, fill Pauline’s favourite sandwiches – Turkey & Stuffing – and then produce litres of stock for winter soups. No turkey will die in vain.

Saturday, 18h November, 2017

Storms over Greece.

It is a grey, damp and rather depressing day outside today. We are at home enjoying not going out. The news from rain-sodden Greece has worsened over night with three more bodies found in the aftermath of the West Athens flooding. This brings the toll to 19 deaths as a result of the weather.

If anyone thought I was overstating the case a couple of days ago when I wrote about the Third Word-ness returning to Greece, you should really read the ‘Opinion’ article from Nikos Katopoulos in Kathimerini this weekend. Under a title of Suffocation, he writes:

Virtually every Greek citizen feels sadness, shame, disappointment and anger about their homeland……An evening stroll around Athens ….amounts to a surreal experience as degeneration seems to have engulfed all aspects of public life…. Greece is at the bottom of all quality-of-life indicators. It is slipping into underdevelopment..

It is a desperate situation which will take immense effort to change and will require a really concerted European effort.

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