on 22 September 2013
This planet can get tiresome when every Amazon village, Turkish bazaar and Inuit skidoo is infested with some celebrity or other experiencing staged stunts on our behalf.
It's not that I'm not grateful for their slapping a whole world of culture between two halves of a bap for our easy consumption.
But in an age when it is trendy to talk of global villages and Karl Pilkington, sometimes the palate can get a little too accustomed to stale cheese slices.
So thank God for feta.
And mouldy cow bones and swirling incense and goat turds.
The author does not set out to do more than record a year in rural Greece, but what an engaging escape it is from the sanitised polystyrene of celeb TV travelogues.
Marjory McGinn - with her convivial style and just enough leftfield wit to keep readers on their toes - reminds us that life, language and love can only be richly experienced with boots (and paws) on the ground.
And it's that truth which makes this immensely likeable memoir such compelling reading.
More than simple places and faces, it's a tale of human fears, friendships and foibles against a backdrop of enticing kafenion culture but the disorientation of a fiendish foreign tongue and startlingly alien customs.
The author pulls no punches and yet the book retains a warm optimism and sunny lightness which, I'd imagine, would make it an ideal beach read.
(And, as a sucker for Jack Russells, Wallace's prickly presence is the dog biscuit on the cake for me!)
Did I fall head-over-heels for Greece? Can't say that I did.
But, as all good books do, flipping the final page stirred a restlessness to experience more of the wide world for oneself.
on 26 July 2016
This book by Marjorie, the first in an enchanting three book series, is funny, informative and interesting. A really enjoyable memoir about a couple's stay in a remote village in the Marni Pelapponese region of Greece.
Marjory and her husband Jim, both journalists whose jobs in Scotland were affected by the newspaper industry upheaval in the UK, arrive in Greece planning to spend maybe an adventurous year or so in the country documenting their adventures. They bring with them their lovable but mad Jack Russell Wallace, who ends up having quite a few hair-raising adventures of his own in a country where dogs are not generally kept as pets and are barely tolerated except largely in a functioning role of guarding their owners' properties. Wallace somehow becomes accepted or by the villagers who give him a new name of 'Vassy'.
Marjory and Jim, or rather Margarita and Dimitrios as they are renamed by the locals, immerse themselves in village life, make friends and in time become accepted members of the community. Life is hard for the villagers and more so in the Greek crisis. The background to the crisis is explained in an informative way and I learned much more about the history and circumstances behind it. Having spent time in Greece on holiday and more recently in Athens, I was aware of the crisis but not as fully informed as I'd like to be, but a lot more of what we witnessed makes much more sense after reading this book.
Marjorie makes friends with an indomitable lady called Foteini who features in many anecdotes and adventures. Foteini looks after her olive trees and keeps a few goats and a donkey in a hillside dwelling, she also has a village house in a state of some disrepair that's hardly used. Their friendship is real and deep and we learn much about the history and hardships of Greek hill farmers and villagers.
A must read for anyone interested in learning about the real Greece.
on 18 December 2013
Two journalists and their dog spending a year in the rural and wild southern Peloponnese at the beginning of the Greek economic crisis: A tale full of adventure, warmth, and wit, delving into the heart of the communities in this area.
Helped along by some knowledge of the language, Marjory McGinn together with her partner, makes her home in the village of Megali Mantineia, in Mani "...because it promised soaring temperatures and deserted coves... most of all it was described as untamed and remote, all the better to find colourful characters, raw edges, and even the odd calamity'. It turns out that - against the dark backdrop of Greece's ever-deepening economic crisis - Mani's people, their life and customs, and the expat community, offer them all of the above and more.
Things are not going entirely according to plan, so Marjorie and her partner, Jim, have to deal with a number of surprising matters: scorpions, dustbins, veterinary lab tests, a fishhook, dentists or the lack of them... And they do so with humor and moods that match the fiercely independent and proud community of local Greeks who, in turn, have to deal not only with the demands of a harsh landscape, unforgiving history, and hundreds of years of rebellion against invading foes, but also with increasing austerity measures and a deteriorating economy.
There are plenty of sympathetic and unforgettable descriptions of local characters, interesting background on the area, hilarious escapades as well as moving moments, and insightful observations of the local expats who turn out to be as colourful as the locals. Cultural tensions between Greeks and expats add to the frisson and make this book an interesting read and as independent-minded as those it describes. At a deeper level, the incidents illustrate the author's quest for rootedness: a sort of Odyssey, with the author stopping to learn from and experience different places and characters.
A treat to curl up with by the fire on a cold winter evening, or by the Aegean, on a warm summer's day. Even more, enticing to visit the places it describes. I haven't been to the area, but having read this book I most definitely will visit.
After Marjorie McGinn left Greece to return to Scotland - she meant to be there for a year, but stayed three in the end - the Greek economy continued on its downward slide; I wonder how the people in the villages she describes are faring. At the same time, I know that many from the cities - over three million alone live in Athens - facing unemployment and homelessness, are now moving back to rural Greece, from where their parents came from and where families may still own land. I wonder how this influx - of educated, artistic, cosmopolitan as well as depressed Greeks is going to affect the villages featured in this book. In this case, this book, might become a future reference source about life in `unspoilt' Greece.
A sequel is implied. I hope it materializes; the author owes it to her readers to share with them her account of the other two years of her Greek adventure. I certainly look forward to it!
on 23 August 2013
The book was recommended by a friend but I wish I hadn't bothered. Being married to a Greek I live permanently in Greece - though not in the Mani - and I'm always keen to read "personal experience stories". There are many such books (someone christened them "villageography") and though it began promisingly enough, I soon became bored with the "same old, same old" and had to make myself read to the end - just to make sure I hadn't formed an opinion too early.
Though Wallace the dog seems to have been popular with most readers, I became increasingly irritated by each successive chapter which harped on and on about his supposed comic antics and eccentric behaviour. Don't get me wrong, I like dogs. However, I detest yappy barkers. All too often, when trying to enjoy a quiet summer's evening on our balcony, I could cheerfully reach for a shotgun (good job I don't have one) and silence the lot of them! It felt like the book was more about Wallace's time in Mani rather than Marjory and Jim's. In fact the book might more aptly be named "Wallace's Adventures in Maniland", or "Wallace's Travels" .....
Finally coming to what seemed like a rather abrupt ending, I heaved a sigh of relief only to realise that the way it ended left things wide open for a sequel - yawn yawn - I for one will not be interested.
on 7 February 2014
This is well written, funny and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Have nearly finished the book and will be sad. Have Marjory written any more books? if not are there books out there that are as well written.
on 2 January 2014
The other reviews do a pretty good job summing up this book, but I'm happy to add my vote of appreciation as I really enjoyed reading Marjory McGinn's account of her year in the Southern Peloponnese with her partner and their Jack Russell dog, Wallace. The Scottish couple met in Australia and Marjory had spent some time in Athens, so had a little Greek to communicate with The Mani villagers where they rented a house for a year. She relates many anecdotes about getting to know the villagers and the locals getting to know them and their dog - anyone who has spent time in Greece knows that village people have very different attitudes to pet dogs, so Wallace's 'Jack Russell ways' are not appreciated by all! The stories are interspersed with useful information about the places they visited in The Mani region, some less well known. It's a good read for any grecophile.
Apparently they stayed on, moving to a different village and a job for her partner working for a travel company for a second year ... so will there be a sequel to look forward to?
on 14 August 2013
After the initial delights of A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, for a few years I could not get enough of the travel genre I think of as 'villageography': expats chucking it all to take their chances in quaint villages in France/Italy/Spain.
Before long, though, the genre palled. The quirky cast of local characters all started to sound the same. Suddenly I couldn't take another wayward neighbour, errant builder or topsy-turvy linguistically challenged intercultural romance.
Then along came Things Can Only Get Feta. We were spending the summer in a Halkidiki village and I related to Marjory McGinn (fellow long-term expat with Australian/UK connections) so decided that perhaps Feta would take the cheesiness out of the genre. It most certainly did.
Marjory writes exquisitely, has an ear and a heart for a wonderful story and the feature-writers' discipline to put it all together in a compellingly readable package.
Her cast of characters is developed with warmth and subtlety overlaid with gentle humour. All of the villagers engender laughter and fear in equal measure as we follow them through the Greek crisis hardships that Marjory brings startlingly into focus.
The real star though is Foteini who at times had my every muscle clenched in anxiety as she faced a trauma I could not bear to contemplate, having come to love her to bits.
The inclusion of Wallace the jack russell terrier adds an extra dimension. He fosters relationships and deepens some of the animastic elements in a way that anyone who has travelled with a pet will recognise.
I must confess to a naughty tendency to skim-read the history bits in travel writing. Not with Marjory. She makes it fascinating and digestible with a fresh take on things you thought you knew and many you didn't.
I can only add the highest praise to that already voiced here for this excellent book whose sequel is eagerly awaited by a captivated audience.
on 24 January 2014
I was a little disappointed - the dynamics of Greek village life and its characters seemed a little distant. Maybe too much influenced by journalist's training?
Some evocative descriptions of the hardships of eking out a living on a Greek smallholding - and the impact of the Euro crisis and increasing crime on hard working Greeks.
on 15 June 2014
As a Brit/Greek this book was always going to sit well with me. As a freelance journalist myself, with a penchant for the sublime horizons of Greece's sunset as an "office" backdrop and a huge soft spot for the Greek community lifestyle, Marjory's adventure stirred a misty eyed longing for me to do the same.
Even if you don't already have an informed understanding of the Greek idiosyncrasies and cultural habits which are very distinct, you won't be alienated with this book because there's always an explanation or British perspective framing all the experiences. What was hilarious for me was to read about the local reactions in Greek. Because I know how easy it is to mix up words in Greek (I had massive struggles during my youth trying to master the zillion ways to write the letter 'e' or conjugating the 7 syllable verbs) Marjory and Jim's run in with linguistic slip ups were comedy gold for me. I take my hat off to them though because it's a very intimidating language and for them to go head forth and make every effort (Angeliki's cafe...Wallace, the good "angouri" moment...tears, so many tears with this one!) to adapt and they did so successfully is something to commend because most Brits go and create their own Britain away from home but they didn't.
As they journey around the Mani and it's vicinity, Marjory details their trips with lots of historical insight tied in with their very funny Wallace related challenges and encounters with the ever so unpredictable but ultimately friendly Greek folk. Marjory's adeptness at humour is winning, especially in this very Greek context.
My mama is Greek and my dad is English, so my household had the noise of the former and a touch of reserve from the latter but every summer our time spent in Greece was always frappe and Thalassa filled with family and friends. As a Greek speaker and someone who has spent a great deal in Greece without living there but experienced enough to make a sound judgement, it's a country which is plagued with a poor system but what gets me every time is its natural beauty and organic living that can be had. However when you need to go through the endless of bureaucracy of actually getting things done, your brain can fry. Again, I bow to Marjory and Jim for putting up with it and braving the casualness of the customer service in Greece. But there's only so much you can criticise because the redeeming factor is all around you in all the oozing light and charming surroundings- which Marjory describes with so much heart and sensory skill.
By the end of the book I really wanted to have Margarita, Dimitri and Vasili for some parea to talk about their journey. If you want to take the plunge and head to Greece, take note of this excellent book and laugh out loud.
on 6 January 2015
what can i say...it was the biggest pile of dog poop that i have ever had the misfortune to waste my time reading. What looks like a book is actually a badly cobbled together collection of 'one liners'clearly designed to be featured in a newspaper column. Even the sad,provincial tabloid to which the 'author' is tenuously associated didn't take her up on it so....voila...it becomes a book.
The focus appears to be a year spent in Greece during the economic crisis. i say 'appears' because the complete drivel forming each chapter seems to have nothing to do with the Greek crisis except that the 'author' puts some last minute reference to the crisis at the end of each of her mental meanderings...as in 'My dog was sick.. and i thought about the crisis', my neighbour has a donkey...and i though about the crisis'. You hopefully get the picture. Not only is it terribly written nonsense, it is also hugely inaccurate on probably any of the limited facts that would actually matter. The best example is how apparently her home in Mani was invaded by black scorpions......interesting since there are none in Greece. Maybe it was just another haptic hallucination of yet another 'buttery mouthed jake'* *. Ref. Henry Miller