Tonight I sat at Table 13. I am not superstitious, and neither clearly is Dimitris, my landlord for the week, and resourceful owner of Brouklis Taverna in Arillas.
We have had a running joke this week over the fact that only he knows whichbuttons to press on the coffee machine to make it splutter into life and produce the cappuccino coffee I like to drink.
Without Dimitris it’s Nescafe or nought!
I haven't yet spotted a customer suggestion box, but if I do I shall write on a white serviette: Teach your sister how to use the cappuccino machine!
I'm sure he’ll respond. It seems I am the only one drinking cappuccino this week. I've checked the menu and it doesn't officially exist. Perhaps I am a test dummy, strapped in, unable to move and heading for the wall!
I think back. It was in fact Dimitris who suggested I try it. Do I look like a cappuccino man?
Suddenly my presence at Table 13 takes on a whole new dimension. Dining alone I have too much thinking time between courses.
I glance up at the ceiling to see if its still intact and no large section of concrete is about to descend on my table. In the subdued light, and without attracting too much attention, I carefully check that my table isn't positioned over some trap door that will open and devour me.
Relieved, I return to more balanced thoughts, and fresh doodling on the serviettes. The weather has been foul today. Grey skies and merciless rain.
For entertainment I've watched the cloud bubbling up over the hills, and tried to calculate how fast it’s travelling.
The few tourists left, particularly the ones with kids who should be at school, look bewildered. The tourist shop across the street hasn't bothered to open. No one is in the market, or the mood, for inflatable lilos, picture postcards, or drastically reduced suntan lotion. The pleasant frontage to the Taverna, with its vine covered pergola and bamboo screens where I dined on my first few evenings here is awash. Water cascades from roof drains,
narrowly missing some English tourists who are trying to park their car as near to the front door as possible. Dimitris, ever the gentleman hoists his parasol and steps out into the storm to escort some female diners to the front door with hairstyles intact.
On the table next to me I register a scouse (Liverpool) accent. I went to college there, married there, and lived there for over 20 years. It is pleasant to be reminded of good times and fond memories.
Whilst I wait for my main course, I'm designing a new house on a site in a village I visited today, on one of Dimitris serviettes. Fortunately there is a good supply on the table, and they are disposable! It’s important to keep it simple, like the originals nearby. I sketch the windows with their three bar opening lights, stone surrounds, and painted shutters; the door with its
arched head and decorative panelling. I weigh up the benefits and
considerations of using the old yellow roof tiles.
A voice booms in my head. No aluminium windows! No red roof tiles!
No friendship with Harry Tsoukalas would survive such an act of treachery.
As it happens Harry knows I'm not about to commit one.
As I sip Brouklis Taverna’s vintage, I reflect on my end-of-season
observations, and the vision that originally drew me to this island: to see new life breathed into the hill villages through restoration and inward investment.
I reflect on my visit to Perdita's Glass Shop in Agios Stefanos. My wife loves the jewellery Perdita makes, but I was more interested in the wall lights made from old clay roof tiles.
A thought goes through my head. If Perdita finds success with her latest idea - and I'm sure she will - will there be enough roof tiles left in the countryside for a new roof? I do some quick mental arithmetic, and decide Perdita would have to sell about a thousand a day for the next ten years to use up all the tiles on collapsed roofs I've seen around North West Corfu. I decide the task is too great for her and I'm still in with a chance of securing a few for a new house!
The Taverna is quieter tonight. Fewer people pass by because of the rain.
Those who are in have clearly been before and are welcomed as old friends.
These diners aren't phased by rain, even rain of the ferocity that is
bouncing off the floor outside! They have come prepared with waterproofs and umbrellas. This is a Corfu I haven't experienced before.
There is an end of season feeling, mostly caused I'm sure by the big tour operator bosses who, due to the fact it’s mid-October, and their superior knowledge about what people want, are now sending their last clients somewhere else.
Despite this, I realize I am witnessing something much more cohesive and personal.
People come here again and again, often twice a year, because they feel welcome here, and because of the friendships they have developed here.
Marketing gurus would call it Brand Loyalty but that would be to
de-personalise it. It is simply about friendship, kinship and strong
generational respect, those most basic of human needs which are so often missing in many of our lives, and are so attractive when we see them in others.
It was to the carpenter of Nazareth that someone once asked, who then is my neighbour? Many of us would find it difficult to answer. Here people matter and its obvious.
This is business of course. The need to earn during the season is second only to the need to breathe. It is however business that is people orientated. No one feels exploited here, or finds there is more ice in their glass than beverage.
The young man with the incredibly spiky hair brings me my cappuccino. I decide that it is a sense of wonderment at how he manages to get it to stay up all evening that keeps drawing people back to the Taverna. A German lady with a twinkle in her eye makes a comment to him. I don't understand what she says but the young man blushes and smiles. I suspect its about his hair, a strong contender for the eighth wonder of the world!
As I pay the bill, I confess my career choice to Dimitris. He now understands why I doodle on his serviettes. I tell him he's lucky that the project I have is mind isn't bigger or I might have been forced to use the whole tablecloth. We compare notes on ambitions and aspirations. I ask him for a weather forecast. He taps a few keys on the computer. Regretfully CNN and Yahoo both agree. More grey stuff tomorrow.
I have survived Table 13.
In reality it was never in doubt that I would. As I contemplate my own hopes and dreams there is an echo of affirmation in my mind.
The future of this quiet corner of Corfu will be in good hands if the young men, who aren't intimidated by the big tour operators, and politicians who are; who value and invest in long-standing human friendships and traditions, and who can work the cappuccino machines, take control.
Up with the revolution!
The author, John Payne, is an architect who lives and works in the Isle of Man. He travels regularly to Corfu, and is trying to help save the old village houses. His thoughts and views are his own.