July 23, 2009
ON BOARD S/Y BUSHIDO—While the eastern islands of Greece are being whipped daily by the meltemi, the hot, strong winds that can turn sailors into zombies, the western side, or the Ionian, remains soft, green and as feminine as ever. The sea off Cephalonia is smooth and mirror-like, but this year I have yet to make contact with mama and baby porpoise. Assos is the tiny village that clings to a small isthmus between the island and a huge forested pine hill crowned by a ruined 15th-century fort. One year ago the road up to the fort was a dirt one. EU moolah, provided mostly by British and German taxpayers, has turned it into a paved-stone path, living proof that those mega crooks in Brussels continue to find ways to spend your money on useless projects such as this. Forested pine Greek hills do not need smooth tiled paths. They need to be left alone in their natural state. A 25-mile highway, which connects Argostoli, the capital, with the northern tip of Cephalonia, was eight years under construction, and has managed to cut five minutes from the journey time, which was one hour. Now it takes 55 minutes but in the eight years it took to build the road, many Greeks and EU bureaucrooks have made a hell of a lot of moolah. Next time you are about to file your taxes, ask your local MP about the hundreds of millions it took to cut five minutes off the perfectly good road that used to connect the north and south of this beautiful Ionian island. Then refuse to pay your taxes to the crooks. And while you’re at it, ask about the expensive tiles up to the fort off Assos.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. There are signs everywhere, in case we missed it, that these projects have been paid for by the EU. But as a local told me, “One man working alone would have finished the road in four years. Instead, it took eight years and 2,000 men working round the clock for a few to make a hell of a lot.” This is what drives one mad with fury. Brussels has a monopoly on the financial fiddle, and there are those in government who call us names when we yell “Stop thief!” Mind you, when the occasional bank stick-up man is caught, he gets 12 years and is out in six. Brussels bureaucrooks get caught and the person who caught them gets fired; the crooks remain in their jobs and expensive paved roads now lead up forested pine hills off Assos.
Just south of Assos and Cephalonia lies my grandfather’s birthplace, Zakynthos, or Fiore di Levante, as it was once called by the Venetians. Our house, a Venetian beauty of a small palazzo, came down in 1953, when an earthquake ruined both Zakynthos and Cephalonia. My father refused to rebuild, feeling embittered toward the locals, who kept stealing small bits of our land. He gave an enormous contribution to the Church instead. I feel the same. Fifteen years or so ago I sold off what was left, and now almost never visit. Absentee landlords have as many rights in Greece as Filipino servants have in Saudi Arabia, and I had found myself in constant litigation trying to recover what was mine. This week I visited from afar.
On my second day lying off the north tip of Zakynthos, a local gendarme came on board with the most extraordinary story. It seems a man by the name of Lord Rayleigh of Milk has been travelling around the island asking for information about yours truly. The gendarme was unable to see his face but he described him as having a middle-aged man’s walk, wearing a large raincoat in the 40-degree heat, a black hat, dark glasses and always hiding behind a two-week-old Daily Telegraph newspaper while hanging out in local cafés. The gendarme got suspicious and called in help. It seems that other fuzz, too, had noticed the strange creature, especially when he went into caves that had not been inhabited since the war, when Simon Wiesenthal operatives visited them looking for Dr Mengele and Klaus Barbie.
The farce ended when we sailed south and 14-year-old Sascha Bismarck jumped on his lilo and floated ashore, only to find his uncle, John Rayleigh, hiding behind a pillar watching Bushido and dressed as Inspector Clouseau. But Lord Rayleigh’s strange behaviour turned out to be a godsend. While looking for evidence of my provenance, he came upon some Albanians setting off fires in the verdant hills above the town. He set off the alarm bells he always carries on his person, and became a hero, however local. He was last seen being decorated by the Agios Nikolaos mayor with the order of Feta and Olive.
I write this as my guests disembark and head back to beautiful, rainy, grey London and I sail north, back to beautiful Cephalonia and the paved-by-your-money path up to the fort.