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Sitting in the Caribbean Beach Bar in Greece repels me and sends my blood pressure zooming

Tom Winnifrith
Monday 28 August 2017

One day the Mrs will learn that me and the seaside really don't mix. She has booked us into a pleasant hotel, the Baywatch, which to her annoyance, is nowhere near the sea. It does, however, have a wonderful view of the bay of Kalamata, a pool which Joshua, the Mrs and I like and is relatively quiet. The guests are nearly all young couples so I am the oldest there and find the music at the bar mildly irritating. That is to say it is all post 1995 and thus, by definition, utterly crap. But the internet works so I can relax by tapping away while Joshua crawls around the floor, licks windows, pulls books apart and does all the other things that make him happy. The Mrs is reading a book on the philosophy of marriage and occasionally draws my attention to a passage which highlights one of my rare failings as a husband.

But today here we are by the sea. Why have a Caribbean themed bar with a range of cheap gin, rum and vodka cocktails here in Greece except to cater to tourists with a limited IQ? Oh for the days of old when the charm of a Greek beach-side village was that it might have just a couple of shacks where you could drink ouzo or perhaps a Fix beer with fishermen and locals. Okay the shacks had no internet but then again I can't get the internet to work here either. That always makes my blood pressure soar.

Of course the shack for the fisherman is not the Greece of my lifetime. When I first came here, the Colonels had already been ousted and with an ever plunging drachma the foreigners were already swarming in for a cheap and cheerful holiday by the sun. But away from the sea, back in the 1970s, the Old Greece still existed. Food was rudimentary and based on sheep or goat, drink was almost always local wines not beer, roads in the mountains were either bad or non-existent and so some places really were preserved from the dreaded tourist. You really were enjoying a glass of local red wine for just a drachma with shepherds and other land workers. Conversation was in German as at least some men in every village had been Gastarbeiten at some point to escape the grinding poverty of rural Greece.

But, when I revisited Anelion to catch up with my father's oldest friend Mike the Vlach some eighteen months ago, even up in the high Pindus that world of Old Greece has now been swept away by new EU funded roads, by television and by all the other forces we call "progress."

Writing in the 1960s Paddy Leigh Fermor saw Greece at a crossroads. Would it try to preserve something of its mystical past or would it clasp the tourist DeutscheMark and Pound to its bosom and rush to a world of wall to wall Caribbean Beach Bars? Paddy was a bit too optimistic for his own good. It was no contest. As I stare across the bay of Kalamata somewhere up in the Taygetos Mountains opposite, even my own little village of Kambos now has its ghastly creperie seling toasties to folks sitting on horrible plastic chairs laid out neatly in rows; its own bit of progress. Perhaps that bit of progress will be knocked back. I hope so.

But the battle of the Kambos creperie was the dilemma Paddy pondered. For the natives the creperie and toasties might seem to offer them new choices. It might perhaps bring the possibility of new jobs and income to the village. As such it is a seductive siren just as, many years ago, wall to wall Caribbean themed bars must have been where I sit now . But for those with money and a real love of Greece it just forces us further afield to places that are still Greek. With its giant banners advertising Spanish beer or Swiss coffee this bar could be anywhere. How I wish it was somewhere else. Like Spain.

You will be glad that my camera is still unable to upload photos and so sits idle in my bag. For the view here is of human bodies sweating in the sun. I cover my own rolls of flesh with a T-shirt but most folks here wander around in swimsuits. A few of our species, such as my young wife, look wonderful in partial undress. But far too many of us just expose great rolls of blubber. Others wear all in one outfits into which the blubber is poured. As it desperately fills every inch of swimsuit and tries to escape it leaves nothing to the imagination.

And so I sit here surrounded by vile bodies listening to elevator music, dreadful remixes of tunes re-designed so as not to offend seventy year olds. The meze we are offered could have come from Iceland, the store for chavs, not the Country and, as a coup de grace, the Mrs and I are offered a shot of locally produced cough mixture on the house. That is a way of saying "you are tourists so all you want is to get hammered after paying 20 Euro for some third rate junk food now piss off."

Joshua sleeps soundly through all of this.

This time next year the Greek Hovel will, I believe, be finished. We three will sit by our own pool. I shall have no cause to grumble as the only semi-clad adult body on view will be that of the Mrs, there will be quiet all around, the meze will be made by me of local produce. And if the Kambos creperie has gone bust, all will be well.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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