More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Sunday, 4 May 2014

My new musical best friend - the Masano guitar

We came home from Greece to a warm welcome last night from Django and Arlo. They were so delighted to see us, purring and rubbing against us in the way that cats save for occasions when they're particularly pleased - they made sure they stuck like glue for the rest of the evening. The boys are one of the two things I miss most from home when I go away - the other being my guitars.
The Guild has been a best friend for years and my recently acquired Martin, though not yet enmeshed in the fabric of my life like the Guild, has been instrumental in rekindling my interest in playing. Of course I can manage for a couple of weeks without them, but given the choice I'd rather not.
Old friend Guild D40
So... I was doubly pleased to be staying in the Mani home of our friends Ilona and John. John is a guitarist so I knew one of his guitars would be there and I remembered with relish the one I'd played on previous occasions. On our arrival, it was such a bonus to find it there -  not just a guitar, but one which I knew was a joy to play.
My new Martin semi-acoustic
The guitar in question is a small, but exceedingly nicely formed, steel-strung Masano - twelve frets to the body, a narrow fingerboard and a warm but sparkling tone. The action is perfect, very responsive with lots of sustain for fingerpicking, but best of all, infinitely playable for me with my small hands. Previously I'd asked John where it came from and he told me it was bought new many years ago from the celebrated guitarist, composer and retailer, Ivor Mairants of Rathbone Place in London.
Perfect spot for tinkling!
During our recent stay I spent many happy hours tinkling away on John's guitar, during which time I became more and more curious about its provenance. It had the Masano label on the headstock and on looking inside the body, I quickly learned it was made in Japan. Internet access was difficult in Greece so I resolved to do some digging when I got back.
Lots of knitting in the sun too on the terrace
 of Ilona & John's village home
There doesn't seem to be a lot of info on these guitars, but nevertheless it didn't take long to discover that the Masano label was a range of guitars specially commissioned by Ivor Mairant from master luthier Kazuo Yairi. Kazuo and his brother Sano learnt their skills at their father's knee, who was an internationally-recognised instrument maker.
More modern version of
Mr Yairi's guitars
When Kazuo started his career, each guitar was made in his workshop in a small village on a mountainside in Honshu, Japan. Although he now operates on a slightly larger scale with several hand-picked craftsmen working on the guitars, the calm atmosphere of the original workshop is valued and maintained. Kazuo is still involved in the supervision of the making of all his hand-built instruments, which are world-renowned for their quality and value-for-money.

So thanks to John and Mr Yairi I was provided with hours of musical fun and l'm looking forward to visiting this lovely old guitar again in the not too distant future.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Mani, Greece in the 1970s


We've been visiting Mani in the Peloponnese for many years, first of all because we knew an Anglo Greek couple who had homes in Athens and the Mani. It was lovely to be able to borrow their Mani house and spend a few weeks living in the community amongst local people. Of course we were tourists, but the area was not developed for tourism and there were virtually no Brits there. The few tourists there were would tend to be Germans in their shiny camper vans and some had started to buy houses in the villages. The local people were genuinely kind and generous, both with their knowledge and their hospitality, and over the years we learnt much about the Greek way of life.
The communal well was where everyone congregated, things were discussed,
water drawn, and clothes washed before water was piped into the village
P started going there in the seventies with his first wife, Joan, who you can see in the image below pouring water away after washing clothes. The villagers also would bring their cattle and goats down to the well to drink.
Joan washing clothes at the well with the cows looking on
Our friend, Sheelagh Killeen, first introduced us to the delights of this particular Greek region, which, by the way, is the middle of the three fingers in the south which reach out into the Mediterranean. 
Kalamata, famous for its plump black olives, sits at the top of the peninsula, and has a fabulous market, where you can find almost all things edible, much of which is home grown. 
Sheelagh rinsing a water bucket before lugging it back up the hill to the spiti (Greek home) 

I particularly used to love going to the market, getting up early to catch the bus for the 1.5 hour journey. On arrival, a quick and super sweet kafe metrio (supposed to be medium sweet coffee - may explain the preponderance of gold  teeth!) would set us up for a couple of hours haggling in the market, buying our vegetables, feta, olives, oil, honey, soap and anything else we needed. 
Woman using wooden beaters to bang out the dirt from her rag rugs in the wash

At lunchtime when the market closed, we'd have a large lunch of gigantes, melanzane, patates and Greek salad in one of the little streets crisscrossing the market. Then a wander around, usually buying a basket and several bunches of oregani both to flavour our food and to bring back home, finishing with kafe in the cafenion, watching the men playing tavli (backgammon) before getting the bus back. 

We were there several times before the 1986 earthquake, which sadly flattened the area of the agora, and the market was subsequently rebuilt on a different site. Still a good market, but there was something about the atmosphere of the old one, that the new version seems to lack. Maybe I'm just being sentimental, but all life was there!

I was always fascinated by the textiles. The local women wore headscarves made from a thin muslin, sometimes printed with tiny patterns, sometimes plain. Every village home was furnished with glorious rag rugs, beautiful vintage weavings, passed down through the generations, each carrying its own history, made from old family clothes and homewares. Many of these bore subtle, yet vibrant colourways and were woven with thin rags - quite a different animal to those on sale in Mani now.

Lovely woman with olive oil can used for collecting water    
The village homes were very simple, but scrupulously clean. On walks up the mountain, we would often be invited in and given retsina, ouzo and mezes in the garden, which would be immaculate. On one occasion we were accosted by an old goatherd who insisted I should milk his goats. I tried to resist, but he was adamant, so I knelt down and proceeded to fill the tin can he gave me. This was the last thing he'd been expecting, as I assume the previous tourists he'd encountered couldn't turn their hands to milking goats. Well on this occasion he'd met one who had thirteen goats at home so I was completely au fait with how to do it. However, I hadn't counted on having to drink the warm unstrained milk from the tin can and only managed a couple of sips before P rescued me and obligingly drank the lot! Touché! 
This man appeared from nowhere and insisted P take a photo of
the two of them holding hands - very sweet!
Finally I'd like to show you the local tatters. I know they're using crochet hooks, and tatting uses a small shuttle, but there's something called cro-tatting nd even needle tatting) which is a sort of combination.
I specially love that her yarn seems to be recycled
directly from an old sweater

I've only ever seen one woman actually knitting in Greece, but you see many sitting in their doorways chatting and tatting. The lace curtains and bedspreads they make can be exquisite.
So the reason I'm telling you all this is that we're off to Mani for a short holiday soon and we're taking a bunch of P's 40+-year-old photos to leave in the village where they were taken. Sadly we're not staying there as we now have several British friends who have homes in the area, closer to Kalamata, but we shall visit and leave the photos at the cafenion. If we're lucky, one of the people in the photos might still be around, but if they're no longer with us, then hopefully their families will enjoy them.
Can't wait to get back there, the only blot on the landscape is the noseeums, or little midges that make a beeline for me as soon as I get off the plane. So I'm currently assembling a non-Deet repellant kit consisting of B vitamin patches and bracelets, citronella based repellants, Zap it stun gun to take the itch and swelling away if I do get bitten and Avon's body lotion which smells like cheap disinfectant but is said to do the business. Someone else told me that coconut oil is very good too, so today I've added that to my pharmacopoeia.  All this may sound slightly OTT but I can't tell you the misery I was in with more than a hundred bites on each foot (yes I counted them!) last time I was there. Forewarned is forearmed as my mum used to say, and that I certainly will be this time. Any tales of your own successful vanquishing of the mighty mozzies will be gratefully received. 

Yassou!