In a couple more weeks Massari village will be holding their annual orange festival.
It's always a good spectacle.
It didn't take long for us to begin making friends and acquaintances once we'd begun our regular lives out here. Among the folk we've become quite close to are some who've been mentioned in the “Ramblings From Rhodes” books.
There's Mihalis, the smallholder with a house surrounded by a garden chock full of fruit trees and vegetables. His menagerie includes chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits and the odd dog or two. The latter of course are continually chained up near their kennels. I'll give him that, he does provide his dogs with kennels. Never seen him take either of them for walks though. At least they're well fed and watered.
Mihalis it was who used to leave plastic bags hanging from the car wing mirror with no fanfare. We'd arrive back at the car and find a load of lettuce seedlings in the bottom, or perhaps at other times of the year a few ripe, plump, shiny aubergines or courgettes. During the summer season we see him once or twice a week and he always has a tray of eggs for us. We'd never dream of refusing anything because it may send him the wrong signal that perhaps we don't want his gifts. We'll simply pass them on to other friends or our immediate neighbours if we have a too much of a surplus.
He's always ready with some advice about what particular day we need to be putting the beans in or what kind of kopria (compost) we need to put on which plants. He tells me when to thin out the beetroot and how to select which French bean plants to pull out and which ones to leave in to continue growing. He's generous with his produce and his counsel, yet incapable of commending me for whatever I do, even though I try hard to follow his advice.
We planted a new young orange tree a couple of years back. It's the navel variety that lots of people here favour, because it's a wonderful eater with the perfect balance between sweet and bitter taste and doesn't produce many pips. I planted it when Mihalis told me to and bought a very expensive liquid fertiliser on his recommendation. A one litre tin cost around €20, but you do dilute it quite a lot with water. I applied it as per his instructions and so, when he dropped by one day, I led him to the tree and showed it to him.
“Oh, I wouldn't have put it there.”
He said, then proceeded to point out everything that I'd apparently done wrong regarding location, light, soil and my dubious prospects of actually seeing a harvest of oranges any time soon. Some time later, in the spring, the young tree was absolutely covered in sweet-smelling white blossoms with delicate little yellow patches in the centre of each flower. I excitedly took a photo and showed it to him. I don't know why, I ought to have known him well enough, but I kind of expected him to say, 'Wow. How lovely. You'll be eating juicy oranges later in the year to be sure.'
Instead he took one look at the photo and said,
“That tree is sick, Gianni.”
...and proceeded to offer more advice about how I might be able to save it from dying if I acted with enough despatch. I hadn't really noticed that the foliage had begun turning yellow. I thought that with all those blossoms on it, then it had to be happy and that we were indeed going to see a bumper harvest.
It seems that we'd done a very wrong thing. It was spring time and the rains were infrequent. We were watering the tree regularly as it was still only four feet high and we thought that it would need it, especially before the hot dry summer months came upon us.
“Oh, no, no. You should never water an orange tree when it's in blossom, Gianni.”
He told me. Dammit but it wasn't something we'd specifically covered during all our conversations up until then. He said that we only had to watch and all those lovely blossoms would drop off. Most of the leaves too.
They only went and did just that, didn't they. More recently we've talked with a few others about watering orange trees when they're in blossom and, sure enough, they all say the same. I don't pretend to understand it, but it must be right. At least the tree is still alive and this spring I'm flaming well not going near it with a hose pipe or watering can if it produces any flowers.
Some years back we used to quite often give a diminutive Bulgarian woman called Dopi a lift into town and back. In appreciation for our kindness she'd supply us with plastic bags full to bursting with wonderfully juicy oranges all through the winter months. This was due to the fact that she was a live-in carer, looking after an old ya ya for a Greek family who had a business in Lindos and thus didn't have time to care for their old mum, who was slowly losing her marbles. The small cottage in which the two women lived was surrounded by a dozen orange trees, the fruit from which the woman's family would never bother to harvest. Thus, each time Dopi got into our car she'd emerge from the garden gate, vigorously 'shhhh-ing” me in a furtive manner and dashing up and down the path with three or four bags of oranges, which she'd bid me stow in the boot pretty sharpish. It was all a bit clandestine because the woman's children, all grown up and running their business, although they never bothered wth the oranges themselves, used to threaten her if she picked the fruit. It would sorely distress Dopi, well, us too, to see all these wonderful oranges being left to rot. So Dopi would go out and rattle the branches until the fruit dropped, then she'd gather up the fallers (seconds after they'd done so) and bag them up for us.
She'd get into the car saying, “Whenever they ask me, 'Have you been picking those oranges?' I can truthfully reply, 'no, I only gather up the fallers', tee hee.”
Sadly, a few years ago our tiny, bow-legged, sixty-something Bulgarian friend with the shock of frizzy white hair returned to her native Bulgaria and we found our primary source of ripe oranges cut off. What on earth were we to do? To actually pay for our supply of winter oranges would be a painful experience.
Well, would you believe it but we became acquainted with a new family of Greeks from a village just up the road, and they have about fifty orange trees just outside the village of Massari. For the past six weeks or so, every time we see them, which is at least once a week, they're carrying plastic bags full-to-bursting with delicious navel oranges and those bags are destined for our car's boot.
So, here we are once again eating our morning muesli topped with chopped chunks of juicy, sweet oranges straight from the tree. Our fridge is stacked with small plastic water bottles whose use has now been turned over to holding freshly-squeezed orange juice and we're frequently hanging bags of oranges on our neighbours' and friends' fences and gates to share the bounty with them too. There's an identical ongoing situation with lemons as well.
It's the same in June with apricots, in the high summer months with water melons. In May you can't move for cherries and in September watch out for those peaches, because it's easy to eat so many that you might just be well advised to carry some loo roll with you if you attempt a country walk.
In the UK you can waltz along the supermarket aisle and load up your trolley with whatever fruit you want, you pay no mind to what season the fruit's supposed to be grown in. It's shipped half-way around the planet to make sure that the supermarket shopper can have his or her choice of whatever fruit or veg he or she wants - any time of the year. Here one gets into the habit of buying local. It's not only a great deal cheaper, but it's far better for the environment and the fruit and veg tastes infinitely better for having been grown just along the road. The only slight drawback is, by the time you get to March/April, you feel like you never want to see an orange or a lemon again. You feel like you've almost turned into one or the other.
It's OK though, because come November, you'll be eager to taste the first ripe oranges of the new season all over again.
Mind you, one more "orangy" experience is always worthwhile, the Massari Orange festival.
|More ramblings about the Massari Orange Festival can be found in this earlier post from March 2015, including lots more photos.|
[The bulk of this post is another extract from the forthcoming book