Zürich this morning


A beautifully sunny morning for a little cycle ride along the Limmatquai.

And a sparrow on the hotel balcony:


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I needed to buy some food in Ancona so went into a healthy-looking fast food place. A dish of vegetables, some fruit . . . suitable nourishment for a fussy vegetarian.

A small brown roll with an unknown filling caught my eye.

“Cos’è dentro?” I enquired.

The assistant said something I didn’t understand. He thought for a moment and then said:

“Sai Bambi?”


“È Bambi dentro.”

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Patras port

Usually my life does not brush up against the kind of things I read about in newspapers. Yesterday afternoon, however, I saw a group of about 8 people dressed in dark clothes like housebreakers run across the port area to try to stowaway in the back of a lorry. The driver shooed them away – despite being outnumbered – and they backed off. Later – from the ferry – I watched another figure climb easily over the security fence and try to get into the back of another lorry waiting to board. Again, the driver waved him away.

It all happened in broad daylight and nobody in authority took any notice or action. I guess Greece has no objections to unwanted migrants disappearing to Italy. More are arriving each week: in the local newspaper there were two stories in a fortnight of dozens of migrants being intercepted or rescued off the coast.

I have no idea if such uncontrolled movements of young men into Europe will bring about a major change, or if they will be assimilated into the continent and life continue as usual. But I’m not sure that the EU should have to rely so much on lorry drivers being vigilant.

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The Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine (1995)

Ruth Rendell by another name. It was OK – it kept me turning the pages, and the quasi-parallel lives of two women in dull marriages and their lovers was cleverly done. A good sense of place: Norfolk/Suffolk borders this time. Some well-observed takes on village life, care homes and husbands.

The big failure was the narrative voice: most of the story is related by Jenny, an uneducated, beautiful, superstitious young woman who has lived her whole life in a small village and works as a care assistant. Well, the voice doesn’t sound like that: it reads like an experienced novelist in her sixties. It doesn’t detract from the tale, but neither does it work.

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Traditional Greek costumes

670583C5-1928-4271-8DE7-7B37B10BB47AThis morning I visited the Karelias collection of Greek traditional costumes, which was brilliant. The beautiful costumes – some of them absolutely sumptuous – were very well displayed, with plenty of information about them.

For women, a long chemise was the base layer. Over this may be laid a segouni (a long waistcoat) or a tsoukna (sleeveless dress) or a frock coat (kavadi). On top of that you add an apron (podia), necklaces of coins, chains, a belt, clasps, brooches . . . it must all have weighed a ton. One bridal outfit required up to 10 undergarments to show off the embroidered, pleated silk skirt as much as possible. I can’t imagine how heavy, stiff and hot some of the felted wool costumes must have been.38954233-F154-41CA-AB0D-8B23B8D284C7

There’s much to ponder on the position of the women who originally wore these clothes: display cabinets for family wealth, trussed up in clothes that hampered their movements? Also fascinating was the influence of western fashions and fabric in those regions with strong trading links to the rest of Europe. But I didn’t bother my head too much about that in the face of such beautiful embroidery and work[wo]manship.

I learned about the Amalia costume, named after the first (German) queen of Greece in the 1830s. She introduced a hybrid style for the women of her court: a European silhouette of a narrow waist and full skirt, with wide Greek sleeves and a kontogouni (short, tight jacket), the whole topped with a fez with a braid.


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I wandered down to the sea after breakfast and noticed a pig grazing in a secluded corner of the hotel’s beautiful gardens. I mentioned it to the waiters (after taking a photo, of course) and they smiled and said «πάλι!» It’s a smart pig; it knows how to slip in and out if its field and help itself to the well-watered green stuff that passes for a lawn here.


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Last night I listened to a pair of musicians playing traditional Greek songs – the usual sad tales of emigration, loss and homesickness. They are repetitive and predictable but undeniably powerful:

Πήρες τον μεγάλο δρόμο
για να πας στα ξένα
άφησες σε μένα
τη λαβωματιά

And then I thought of Udo Jürgens’s “Griechischer Wein”, which sees the 1970s Greek Gastarbeiter through sympathetic German eyes. (Jürgens is quite cheesy, but he was a musician to his fingertips; he could adopt any popular style. When I first heard him he seemed like a disco Brel. Again, powerful. “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.”)

Und dann erzählten sie mir von grünen Hügeln, Meer und Wind,
Von alten Häusern und Jungen Frauen die alleine sind und von dem Kind,
Dass seinen Vater noch nie sah.

And now so many young Greeks are leaving their country once again, although Skype and cheap flights perhaps don’t make it as poignant as in earlier times

Today I visited the archaeological museum, which was better than I had expected. (Patronising of me.) There was too much to take in: I should pay more attention to all those brown signs by the roadside pointing to obscure archaeological digs. I learned that after the defeat of the revolting Messinian helots in the Second Messinian War 685-667 BC, many survivors fled to Sicily – hence Messina.

The other thing I noted was the proto-globalisation of Roman rule. There were fragments of a Roman-era mosaic of, I think, Dionysos, which reminded me of the less-sophisticated mosaic in the Leeds City Museum.


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