As soon as the last visitors drive away to the airport in Kalamata- winding through the craggy mountain landscape with its olive groves and villages garlanded with pomegranate trees studded with scarlet fruit- the gang from Kampos descends to the shoreline to harvest its abundance for the household supply of oil.
The morning of the last day of October the rosemary flowers are abuzz with bees foraging for nectar and the olive harvest is in, almost to the last tree.
George the 29 year old gang leader has startling blue grey eyes, which he says could be from his mother or his father. His mother Stella is robust, ruddy cheeked, flame haired and blue eyed.
“My father Ioannis is the doctor.” The doctor is engaged in serious parley with his ancient steel toolbox and the recalcitrant machinery of the olive thresher, which has spluttered to a halt in its rhythmic pounding. Ioannis yanks the starter and it roars back to life.
“He is engineer” explained George. Not everyone speaks fluent English in these parts unless they have re-emigrated from Australia or the United States. Once an elderly couple with strong Brooklyn accents invited me into their garden, very close to Patrick Leigh-Fermor’s house. They were visiting their village to try and sell a newly built house. I did go and view it, but it was terribly ugly and overlooked a row of dustbins.
Dora and husband, another Ioannis, pose by the winnowing machine, a basic tin box covered with a wire mesh. It’s the more primitive version of the mended thresher in which the fruit is separated from the waste leaves and stalks by vigorously rubbing a quantity of branches against the mesh to allow the olives to drop through the holes. Several gunny sacks of harvested olives stand under the trees waiting to be transported to the olive mill. The bottled oil will supply Fani’s kitchen all through the year.
Lemon chicken, beef cooked with tomatoes, various classic mezze dishes like anchovies pickled in oil and lemon juice, calamari, moussaka, the inevitable frites (you must ask for them to to be fried crispy brown), beans in tomatoes and so on. Not a great variety of sweets apart from syrupy walnut and semolina cake and a lemony biscuity tart, very sweet and delicious, with a tiny cup of Greek coffee.
The President of Kampos village, a grizzled dark skinned rangy man presses a couple of small chocolate Swiss rolls on me which I later share with Marta, the girl who cleans the rooms. Before I have a chance to note down George’s address and phone number the thunder overwhelms us. Dark purple clouds have swirled over the mountain tops blotting out the blue sky. The rain hammers down with the same ferocity as a July monsoon. It goes on forever, misting the air and turning the summer holiday atmosphere to autumn in minutes.
By the time I come down from my room, having finished viewing the end of of “The Ballad of Buster Scroggs” https://www.theguardian.com › film › nov › the-ballad-of-buster-scruggs-re… on my IPad, all the olive sacks have gone and so has the genial gang, back to their village on the mountainside.