GEORGE Giri, then a retired Surgeon-Captain in the Royal Navy, arrived on the island just over 20 years ago with his wife Karin, and went straight to Mancor de la Vall where he had already bought a house. Both were determined to throw themselves into life with the locals - and that's exactly what they did. Although George's surname (the G is hard) is pronounced exactly like the Spanish ‘guiri', he is the complete opposite of that Spanish slang term.
A ‘guiri', always a pejorative word, means a foreigner or a foreign tourist. For a Spaniard (it's a Spanish word, not Mallorquín) a ‘guiri' is the typical foreigner who walks around town centres in shorts, shirtless and looking rather lost. If he has just arrived, his shirtless state shows lots of white flesh. If he has been here for a few days, the flesh is the colour of a freshly boiled lobster, a shade that looks extremely sore to the touch. But when I met George in Palma last week, there was nothing ‘guiri' about him. He could have passed for a Majorcan ‘pagès' walking to church in his Sunday summer outfit: light coloured trousers (long, of course) and shirt, with a battered straw hat on his head. A ‘pagès' is a Majorcan peasant - in the best sense of that word. Walk into any Majorcan village bar and you will see similar hats on the heads of Majorcan men. George's well-used hat is probably one of the most cherished items in his wardrobe. George was forced to retire early at the age of 60 (because that was the age limit) but with hardly anything of a pension. So he had the idea of coming to Majorca because he thought what little money he had would go further here. A London friend was selling a Moorish barn in Mancor de la Vall and George came out to look at it, but didn't tell Karin. “I came out pretending I was coming on a medical conference and bought it on the spot. I was looking for somewhere to escape to while I waited for the old age pension to arrive. “So here we were in this beautiful little village with our barn. It was like living in a 9th century baronial castle with immensely thick walls and nothing inside except where there had been animals. But wonderful grounds. “We were both of a like mind that if you were going to live in a foreign country you had to integrate. It was the only important thing. You didn't deserve to live in a foreign country unless you integrated. “So from the word go we did everything we possibly could. Spanish came very easily to me (George, as we shall see later, was already multilingual) so I didn't have to bother very much about learning it. “Karin, having been a ballet dancer, immediately joined the Majorcan dancing group in the village and before I knew what had happened I was down there with my violin.” But soon after that the lead violinist retired for health reasons and George was on his own. “There wasn't anyone else to play the violin,” recalls George, ”so I was the lead instrument for the group.” George became completely immersed in Majorcan dancing and other aspects of village life and for some time he has been writing an interesting and knowledgeable column about the daily comings and goings in Mancor de la Vall for the Sunday-Monday edition of the Bulletin. He is especially fond of Majorcan folk dancing and has done a bit of research on it. “Majorcan dancing is more varied than any other folk dancing that I have come across,” he says, “because so many different influences got incorporated. It really is fascinating. “One of the most interesting things is the Cossiers dancing group whom I hadn't associated with anything in particular until I was here for some time.” That was when he went to a special church service in Inca where the Cossiers were dancing. “To my astonishment,” says George, “who comes dancing down the aisle but the same dancers as the Morris dancers of England.” For the first time it dawned on George that the Cossiers wear the same type of costumes as Morris dancers and dance the same sort of steps. “Suddenly it all clicked,” said George. “There had been in England the thought that Morris dancing was more or less invented by somebody in early 19th century from something that was older. But clearly this was all very traditional from the Crusades, because Morris dancing was Moorish dancing. And this dancing of the Cossiers is Moorish dancing.” George's theory is that Moorish dancers entertained the English troops during the Crusades and then went back with the Crusaders to England where their Moorish dancing became Morris dancing. George is full of intriguing nuggets of information like that because during his long life he has always taken an intense interest in his surroundings.
His surroundings began in Hampstead 80 years ago - although George looks so young and healthy he could easily pass for 65. “My mother was a high-born Russian princess and my father was a high-class Brahmin from Mysore who became, during the 20s, one of the greatest eye specialists in the world. He ran the Royal Eye Hospital in Eastbourne which was opened by Queen Mary.” Through his mother, George is a direct descendant of the first czar Rurik. The Rurik line ran from about 950 to the early 13th century when the stepson of Ivan the Terrible was chosen to become the first of the Romanoff line. “In Russian history,” explains George, “we few remaining who are direct descendants of the first czar Rurik are considered rather special and superior to all aristocrats after Ivan the Terrible.” After the Russian Revolution, the members of George's maternal family lost all of their money and impoverished uncles and cousins, many of whom had been ambassadors, turned up in Eastbourne to stay with George's parents. “At the age of five,” remembers George, “I didn't know that everybody in the world didn't speak every language. These relatives all spoke perfect English, perfect French, they all had German and a lot of them, because of the embassies they had been in, spoke other European languages such as Italian. “In my family, if it was easier to say something in Russian you said it in Russian and if it was easier to say it in English then that was the language used.” George always had multilingual governesses and other household staff. “At age of five I spoke Russian, French and German fluently without any accent at all, and English as I speak it now,” he says. The young George went to Charterhouse where he was a solo treble in the choir and also played the violin. The latter was due to sheer fortuity, as George had been studying the piano. “My father went to hear the great Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler in 1925 or so when I was very proud of the fact that I could play Cobbler, Cobbler, Mend My Shoe with two hands on the piano. But when he came back from the Kreisler concert he said ‘George, you must stop playing the piano and must start playing the violin.* He didn't know I was going to have the largest hands in the world and I was totally unsuited to the violin.” So George gave up the piano and played violin. But it was just as well after all, Majorcan dancing groups have no need for pianists.
When George left Charterhouse he thought he'd like to go into the Royal Navy but ironically (being the son of one of the world's great eye specialists) they wouldn't accept him because he was shortsighted. “The reason I wanted to go into the Navy,” says George, “was because my great-grandfather had been admiral of the Russian royal yacht for 28 years.” Although the door to a post in the Royal Navy was closed to George because of his shortsightedness, there was one other way he could gain entrance - by becoming a doctor. “So I went to Cambridge and I became a doctor and then I joined the Navy as a doctor.” Note that George's rank when he retired was Surgeon-Captain, so when I went to see him I had with me a list of everything I ever wanted to know about surgery but didn't know who to ask. However, it turned out that George isn't a surgeon. “By tradition, since 1808, all doctors on board ship are called surgeons but before that time surgeons were not considered to be even officers. And they were below decks, they weren't in the wardroom. But the physicians were considered gentlemen and they were in the wardroom.” In the early days of medicine barbers carried out most surgery - the barber's revolving red and white pole outside his shop represents the flow of blood. So how could they possibly have barbers in the wardroom? “But then they decided that this was ridiculous because surgery was getting beyond the barber,” explains George, “so they decided they would put all doctors into the wardroom with the rank of Surgeon-Lieutenant.” George had a highly successful career in the Royal Navy, and because of his knowledge of languages, especially Russian, he soon came to the attention of the intelligence services. Next week we'll see how the M of the day took George away from medical duties to do a bit of spying for England.


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