Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spider- Catcher Extraordinaire

What would I do without my daughter, Sophia 'Spider-Catcher'? I was just putting Leo to bed: “Pick up your dirty clothes and put them in the washing pile, and take that”, I pointed to a towel that lurked damply in a corner, “and put it in the bathroom.”

Leo did as he was told and a large grey tarantula (or 'migal', I think they're called here – anyway it was a couple of inches across and all legs and hair) landed from the towel with an almost audible 'plop' on the floor.

I don't like big spiders. Unable to stop, I once drove the pot-holed dual carriageway from the Golan Heights to Damascus in the dark, a large spider patrolling the van's windscreen in front of me. Ducking my head, I managed to keep it in sight, backlit by the headlights of oncoming vehicles, and only when we arrived at the Damascus campground could Barbie, my travelling companion, and I try and catch it. No way were we going to sleep with that monster. We lost it in the van's bookshelves, and ate dinner with a weather eye cocked. Only as we were about to sleep did it reveal itself, an inch or two from Barbie's nose. She, fortunately, was made of sterner stuff than I, and managed to corner it in a glass, slide stiff paper underneath it, and fling it out of the van's sliding door – only to have it jump on her and run up her arm before it disappeared forever.

Sophia is also made of sterner stuff than I and has several times come to my rescue when a big spider has found itself near me. They seem to like damp laundry, especially towels. More than once, while picking up the laundry by the back door, I have had a big migal fall out of the pile. Early one school morning two years ago, it happened just before everyone was supposed to get up. I screamed from surprise and pain (it was the period when my hip was giving me real gip, and the sideways twisting leap that I performed in the pre-dawn gloom was guaranteed to hurt). Sophia heard my yell and turned over sleepily thinking 'Alex will sort it out, he's nearer!' When evidentally no help came from the gallant Alex, Sophia dashed outside to find me crouched and groaning, pointing at the offending arachnid. She promptly dropped a laundry basket on it, earning a reprimand from me... From then on, like Barbie, she scoops them up tenderly with a glass and a sheet of card and carries them far from the house.

Last winter, while taking a shower when the kids were at school, I reached for the soap and thought 'That's odd: one of the kids has left one of the plastic spiders from the Early Learning Centre in the soap dish...' only when I touched it and it moved did I realise that the creature under my hand was, in fact, real. I continued my shower, gaze fixed on the soap dish, but when I returned to remove it, the spider had vanished. For the next week I conducted myself with great trepidation in the bathroom – carefully inspecting all towels, face cloths, soap, and such. But it never revealed itself again.

So this evening, when Leo and I froze staring at the creature on the floor, I yelled for Sophia and she came, glass and card in hand. This spider did not go gently, however. S/he seemed to fancy Leo's room and only after much persuasion with the card and a wand from a box of magic tricks would consent to be lured into a position where Sophia could lower the glass over her/his body without trapping the great hairy legs.

Sophia's language was colourful -- a steady stream of epithets mixed with cajoling encouragement. Study of Shakespeare seems to be paying off.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Visit to Crete

Despite how much I love my family, and despite the fact that I do enjoy my life, sometimes it's great to get away...

I just spent three days in the Cretan town, Chania, sitting in on Part of Stella Johnson's Documentary Photography workshop. The workshop ran for five days, but I only managed three -- driving to Larnaca, boarding Aegean's flight for Heraklion, landing to find two bus loads of riot police outside the airport (expecting me, were they?), taking the three hour bus trip to Chania and finally checking in to the wonderful Porto del Colombo hotel in the old city.

My mornings were spent shooting, editing, and in class seeing the other students' work and sharing critiques. All together there were five American students and between three and five local teaching assistants who helped with translations and introductions and organised locations for the students to shoot -- a leather factory, the gypsy encampment, the market.

This was Stella's fourth Crete workshop: I first met her four years ago when I took a Magic Moment class with Costa Manos, and last year I was also able to attend part of her workshop. She is a wonderful teacher -- warm and encouraging, positive and constructive. I feel that I made some good progress in my work.

The most important place that I photographed was the cemetary. Stella and I had been together last year, but both of us had felt intimidated by the loaded situation there. This year I was determined to get something from it, and was rewarded. As I wandered the aisles, photographing the different graves, their inscriptions, their mementoes, I wondered how to discreetly include the black-clad relatives who came to clean and sweep their loved-one's tomb. I stopped at the memorial to one young man and was exploring different visual ideas when his mother arrived with fresh flowers and candles. Mortified, I asked if she minded my photography, and she said not at all, and to continue... The experience was a gift.

The whole workshop was a gift -- of learning, of cameraderie, of good food and raki, of intense concentration... Thank-you to all who combined your energies to make it all possible.

Monday, May 2, 2011


In the beginning... there was the winery: ready for the bottling, older vintages 'wracked and stacked...'

Production line in progress...

Yesterday we bottled the 2010 vintage of 'Chateau de Petit Ane Blanc'. It was a rather special event: unlike other years, when Best Beloved has used grapes from others' vinyards to make up barrel quantity, last year's harvest was all our own certified organic grapes. It was a smaller harvest – only 100 litres: fifty litres 'A' -quality, fifty litres 'B'- which had been patiently waiting in their stainless steel tanks in the basement winery for their descent into glass.

The night before, Le Sommelier arrived from Nicosia with wife and Littles-Aged son in tow. A good dinner was had by all, including my brother-in-law and his Intended over from Continental Europe (one lives in Vienna, one lives in Brussles). I baked salmon in foil and served it with dill butter, steamed baby potatoes, a tabbouleh and a green salad and followed that up with a pannacotta with forest-fruit sauce, and we were all tucked into bed by twelve.

We started at about eleven the next morning, LS filling bottles, BB corking them, Alex wiping them off and putting them in their appointed spots. Then friend Charis arrived with wife and Toddler son in tow and began filling bottles from the other tank, ably assisted by Toddler. Wives and I were fluid elements in the production line variously collecting bottles, rinsing them, opening packets and photographing the proceedings. Toward the end we ran out of bottles and I made a frantic circuit of the house rounding up the empty wine bottles that we have stashed in the bedrooms as water containers.

By one we had finished and cleaned up. Lunch was the remains of the salmon mashed with cream cheese, capers, lemon juice and pepper on brown toast, fresh asparagus, and for the non-pescavores cold roast beef sliced 'waffer-theen'.

'I think the wine is good', BB said to me last night. 'And LS thinks so, too. You can usually tell when he thinks its good because he doesn't say much...'

Best Beloved has put so much work into this -- hours of planting, weeding, pruning, tying up, harvesting, pressing... fiddling! Endless thought and research, endless consideration of the whys, hows, and wherefores of the making of good wine. The 2008 wine was lovely: complex and spicy -- and it received good reviews from People Who Know About Wine. Two thousand nine I liked less and I think BB liked it less, too.

I can't wait to see how this one turns out.

New vintages A- and B- qualities, and time to rest and enjoy the view... (why did this caption turn blue???)