30 March 2008

The Story So Far

So much has happened, and so many things have changed in the last twelve years in Corfu that I almost have trouble remembering how English Imports began, and then how it ended up at Corfu Homefinders and Corfu Premier Property.

Then, I think about the past and remember that we couldn’t buy a ‘real’ tea bag (the bright yellow packet full of dust, definitely not counting as actually containing tea), there was no Marks & Spencer, no Iceland, no Cadbury's chocolate – and clothing for the kids cost an absolute fortune because you had to buy it from little boutiques. THEN I remember – many of us had young children and used to spend our time in the UK working out how much the kids were likely to grow in the next few months, and buy them everything they would need and bring it back. And we were the lucky ones, we were ‘reps’ working for tour operators and could take advantage of empty flight seats to go and do our shopping. So we hunted around, and rented a tiny shop in the old part of Corfu Town, and began to sell kids clothing.

We soon realized that much of our baggage allowance was spent on bringing back duvets and covers for our Greek relatives. Then followed the basics we convinced ourselves we absolutely had to have…Marmite, Bisto, mint sauce, custard etc. After that we realized that the choice of clothing for ladies, shall we say of a certain age, or size, was in short supply – so the ladies clothing section appeared. Luckily, as well as the British clientele who already knew us, we attracted a following of tolerant locals, who although they obviously thought we were slightly mad to have all this ‘stuff’ jammed into an incredibly small space, still came along regularly to see what little gems we had brought in.

At this point it became essential to have a change of premises, and we found an old house, with a small garden, bang in the middle of Town. In the beginning we thought we would have a problem – four rooms, how will we fill all that space? Then the problem gradually dawned on us - how can you have a duvet and not have matching sheets, towels, bedspreads – and what about our living rooms, all drastically in need of makeovers – so throws, lamps, pictures and clocks all joined the shopping list. Later on, so did china and pretty kitchenware.And all through this our multi-national clientele came on a regular basis to see what new little prizes we had managed to find – and put in their own requests…..a cup to match the one that got broken, a willow pattern teapot, a curtains to match the quilt cover they bought last year, some garden gnomes for a surprise birthday present, bed linen in bulk to equip villas etc. etc. etc. Then gradually came the requests….a new flat to rent, a nice piece of land or a villa – so Corfu Homefinders grew out of English Imports.

Recently we have re-designed the shop and its stock, instead we have become more of a Corfu Home Store, concentrating on ranges of contemporary Mediterranean and classic English furnishing and furniture, together with linens, towels, lamps, china mugs – in fact virtually every type of accessory you might want for your new home in Corfu. We can now totally furnish your home in a variety of styles, so all you have to do is turn up and open the door!

We have carried on through semi-permanent flooding (the builders upstairs took the roof off and forgot to put a cover on and then forgot to seal the very nice veranda they built – so now we have water dipping on a regular basis!), Christmas lights catching fire (and Christmas lights being stolen!) power cuts, falling scaffolding – you name it, we’ve been through it.

Somewhere in the midst of everything our long suffering ladies multi-task to an unbelievable level……information on where to find absolutely anything and everything, translation of Greek documents, phone calls to places who speak no English, interpretation of bills, location of people who either know something, or do something, homes for animals, homes for people, where to go for travel arrangements and so on – and somewhere in there, sometimes they sell something!

We are offered properties by our shop customers, we sell properties to other shop clients! We get shown piles of stone in villages ‘ripe for restoration’, we hike up mountainsides in our ‘wellies’ in torrential rain to appreciate ‘the view at the top’, and on another day we look at fabulous villas on the sea….then when someone buys a property – we help them to furnish it.

After all these years, our slightly quirky combination of store and estate agency seems to have ended up being typically Corfiot…..a general atmosphere of chaos but everything tends to work in the end!

29 March 2008

A Lenten Dish

Octopus with Paprika.

This dish can also be served as an appetizer for drinking with ouzo and is also considered a lenten dish, suitable for those who are fasting in the weeks before Easter.

A large octopus. 2 large sliced onions. 1 clove garlic clove. 4-5 medium potatoes. One and a half glasses of water. Tomato paste. One and a half wine glasses of oil. 1 vegetable stock cube. Salt. Black pepper. Piquant paprika.

Clean and wash the octopus. Cut the body into slices and chop the tentacles into pieces. Wash the octopus again and strain it. Melt the stock cube in hot water. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the onions and the garlic. Add the cube, the octopus and stir. Saute the octopus until it takes on a red colour. Add water and boil the octopus until it becomes tender. Gradually add the tomato paste, the peeled and quartered potatoes, one spoonful of paprika and pepper. Let the sauce thicken. Optionally add half glass of white wine and let it evaporate. Taste and season.

28 March 2008

A Civil Tongue

Husband was in town today trying to finish one of the many bureaucratic tasks of which day-to-day life in Greece is made up of. Having successfully completed a marathon of collecting signatures on various bits of paper and handing over the complete bundle, his mobile rang and he spoke in English to whoever it was. The civil service lady behind the desk, who had just picked up his sheaf of paperwork, looked up and said (in Greek) "Do you live outside Greece?" Husband answered, "No, but I used to teach English". "No, no," she said, "I don't mean that, just that you are very polite!" So at least the British have a reputation for being polite in some circles here in Corfu.

Easyjet Flies In

The budget airline Easyjet is to begin daily flights from London to Corfu at the beginning of April. Flights will continue until the end of October.

This will mean big changes in the way that independent travellers can arrange their holidays.
Those who do not wish to be tied to the weekly flights of the large tour operators will be able to take advantage of the flexibility offered by daily flights. And if booked well in advance there are of course considerable savings to made.

One other point worth remembering is that charter flights don't usually begin until May, so this new service will allow tourists to fly directly to Corfu a month earlier!

We've been waiting for this for such a long time. I think we should all be there on Monday 31st evening waving flags saying "Welcome Easyjet"! Let's hope that there are enough bookings so that they will carry it on through the winter.

Ionian Summer Music Academy

Corfu will be hosting an event to keep all of its music-loving visitors entertained this summer.

Visitors to the island in June this year will be able to enjoy the Ionian Summer Music Academy, which will run throughout the month.

The festival, which features themed sections including brass, instrumental, vocal interpretation and Greek music, has become a regular part of Corfu 's annual entertainment calendar.

It will be divided into five periods this year - woodwind and percussion, symphony music, east meets west, classical experience and Ionian jazz concerts.

Venues are all over the island including the Town Hall Square, Saint Spiridon Square and the Municipal Theatre.

27 March 2008

The Secret of Youthful Skin

Last week it was my birthday, so Sarah bought me an eye-cream and facial serum to stop the wrinkles just to make sure I knew how old I was getting.

A few days later I decided to try the creams. As it was early morning I wasn't wearing my glasses. I put the eye cream on and than looked for the facial serum. We had already said, as I have a very dry skin, I might need my own face cream on top of it. I found the bottle and put the serum on. It didn't smooth my face very well, so I put my normal daycream on top.

Last night with my glasses on I finally found my missing bottle of leather cleaner and smoother for my coat...

Sarah complimented me for my youthful skin this morning.

25th March - National Day

Despite threatening rain, and lots of wind, the annual parade in commemoration of Greece's revolt in 1821 against 400 years of Turkish occupation managed to slot itself into a sunny period. A short church service always precedes the more visible celebration - in my village the brass band leads the local schools up the main street and back again causing all traffic to halt until they have retreated to the village square for cakes and drinks. In Athens the armed forces also take part with tanks and over-flying aircraft.

We were a bit sad to see how few children there are left in the village - the junior school has had to combine with the one in the next village; 20 years ago it was thriving, with some 30 children just from our village.

Yet another National Holiday on 25 March, an excuse for a day off and a chance to feel patriotic even though Greece is my adopted country. Why aren't we patriotic in Britain, or in England at least? Does anyone in England under the age of 40 know who our patron saint is and when his name is celebrated?

In all villages over Greece, in every small school and nursery, the children dress up in their national costumes, many homemade or handed down through the generations, and say poems or perform a small play. In the towns and cities, impressive parades take place to include the local schools, representatives of the army, navy, airforce, police, fire brigade, nurses and so on - all there as public servants of the country.

In Corfu at least, this is all accompanied by the wonderful numerous brass bands which are so special on our island. The pomp and splendour, together with the normal disorganised nature of events which is so typical here , combine to create a very special atmosphere.

I was at the very front of the crowds, waving my Greek flag for all I was worth, trying to spot my daughter in her school line-up. I hope that on this day she felt Greek, not English.

Spring is Sprung

A carpet of wild flowers close to the village of Pelekas on the west coast of Corfu.

23rd March - Easter Sunday at Holy Trinity, Corfu

This year we will be celebrating Easter twice in Corfu. (Any excuse for a party!)

Anglican Easter, which follows the Gregorian calendar, fell on the Sunday following the full moon (21st March). The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, following the Julian calendar, calculate Easter to be on the first Sunday after the full moon on 20th April. (Sunday 27th April). Still following? There's a much fuller explanation to be had on page 28 of the March/April issue of Island Magazine.

On Sunday we ate lamb and mint sauce followed by Cadbury's chocolate eggs (available from English Imports, Corfu Town) and are looking forward to the traditional Greek whole lamb and red dyed eggs on the 27th April.

It's always seemed to me to be one of the better things about belonging in two countries - double holidays, double celebrations.