Present time (November 30th, 2012):
Duty— You should have written every day!
The writer— I couldn’t, the writing would have been dry, just a bunch of facts, what we did, like a check-off list, no one would have been interested.
The child— Can we play now?
Duty— Now you have to write after almost two months; what would you remember now?
The writer—I’ll write, just leave me alone, don’t carry me to all these new places, give me some time!
The child—I want a roiboos tea!
Duty—We don’t have time! And plus, these new places have to be seen, they are a must, remember that you always wanted to see them!
The writer—OK, let’s see them, but then I won’t write!
The child—And I want to watch a movie!
Duty— You have to write! People are waiting for your blogs!
The writer— Are you kidding me? They live their lives, we’re just entertainment for them, if there is no blog to be read, they just go and find something else!
The child—Look at me! Look at me!
Duty—Then write for us!
The writer—I need peace, and time! Leave me alone, to find my muse, to process those feelings, to make them less personal, to bring a unified image of how it was there, and not the whole material. It was one thing to present Asia, where it was a first contact with a different culture, and another to show Europe. I grew up here, I can tell details, but then I have to explain them, and you don’t give me time!
The child—Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong! Let’s escape!
Duty and the writer—WE CAN’T! WE HAVE TO WRITE THE BLOG!
Two months ago and forward.
Kali mera, Elada! (kah-lee mair-ah) Good morning, Greece!
A three men orchestra plays a Greek tune as we pick up our luggage and file out of airport. I think it’s a nice gesture, like real orchids in Singapore, having live songs in Mykonos; for sure I will remember this airport. Outside, sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, maybe a little bit of wind. Anna, the owner of Evangelia’s Place (named after her mother), shakes my hand, then leans in and kisses me on both my cheeks. She does this with each and one of us, while saying our names. We pile in her car and she starts talking while she gives us a tour of the island: this is the supermarket, next to it there’s a bread shop where they have very good bread, the pharmacy. Houses, all white and covered in bougainville, have rounded corners and a personal little church.
|Tiny church with the Greek flag.|
In Mykonos first they build the church, and after, the house. The priest follows a schedule to see whose house does the morning or evening service. At the bus stop Anna brakes, looking at the sign that announces the schedule (a blackboard under the shade of a tree), and tells us when we can expect the bus to ride in or out of town.
We talk about the crisis and the strikes. “It’s not that people are not working—they work, and hard, but the system is bad.” Then we arrive at her place, large terra-cotta jars with geraniums or a different type of “hen and chickens”, olive trees and other kinds.
It’s Mom’s birthday and we wanted to be together. Their hotel is literally across the road, with a beautiful view of the sea and an infinite pool. To reach their room we have to climb down and then up a maze of stairs, between palm gardens, and private room yards.
We have a late-lunch/early-dinner meal, watching the sun setting in the sky and eating moussaka and lamb chops with rosemary. Happy birthday Mom and Grandma Tana! On the table there is a vase with flowering basil. It is peaceful and quiet, we’re the only ones in the restaurant, we’re on vacation. When we met with the parents in London, they watched the movie and Mom said “I know what I want for my birthday!” Two weeks is not long enough to work on this kind of project, especially when you have to visit four more capitals, but the girls pulled all the stops and translated the movie in Romanian, recorded a new audio and made it fit on the English cues. The grandparents had a blast, laughing almost continuously and enjoying the commentaries. (In the meantime they started showing it to anyone who manifested a little bit of interest and they haven’t stopped yet! You can see it to if you have 25 minutes here)
Even if this is vacation time, we can’t pass Delos. It used to be the place to dedicate a temple to one god or another, to bring a prayer and a sacrifice. People used to live here, there are many houses to prove that, but because of a prophecy, the rulers of Athens gave an edict forbidding people to be born or die on the island.
Now, all I can see are just blinding white stones and ruins under the unmerciful sun. We make our way toward Zeus temple at the tippy-top on slippery steps, shined by the peregrines and hordes of tourists. There is no shade, we’re crawling hot and red faced next to a stone wall or a scruffy bush, to find some relief.
Ioan is looking for life forms, but just the lizards are obliging, anything else is hiding from the sun. From the top I look around: sea and other islands. For a moment I try to feel that disappointment, lived by people marauded on an island, but I can’t, I know I have a boat to take me away.
Back on Mykonos we try to retrace our steps and end up going other white and blue streets, squished between stores, bougainvillea and shade canvases. We admire the windmills, the restaurants, with numbered tables and Van Gogh’s chairs (very uncomfortable), the people who chose to sit, drink coffee and watch people passing by. At our place we find out that it was a general strike, and we laugh, Athens is so far away, the struggle on the continent doesn’t impose on the islanders, who earn their life in tourism.
And then... shame! Disgrace! I find a crawling insect on my shirt, that looks very similar with one that I saw in Spain, while I was sewing! It is a louse! Fortunately the internet is working and I can read online what I am suppose to do and what to buy. We all do the treatment, greasing the hair and combing it with that superfine comb, spraying the whole body with the medicine. I am the only one that finds a dead insect body and that is a relief. Then I have to wash and hope that whatever creepy-crawly are on our clothes, they will die in 104 degrees water with detergent (it should be 140 F for washing or 250 F for drying at least half an hour) . I would have expected to pick up a bug in other countries, less developed, but not in old Europe!
The vacation is over, we’re back in our exploring and learning mode. A slow ferry takes us to the island of Syros, the capital of the Cyclades Islands. We arrive on a Sunday afternoon and after the commotion from the ferry, the town seems deserted. The streets are empty, the stores are closed, houses with shuttered windows, an occasional car. From the second story of a house an old lady throws in the street leftovers from the Sunday’s lunch to the alley cats.
|Fearless cats, not flinching in front of a car, eating on marbled street.|
This town has names for the streets (really a rare thing) and makes our life easier as we’re walking with our backpacks toward the hotel. We pass a church, that later we find out that it has an icon (religious painting) by El Greco, when he was still only Domenikos Theotokopoulos. We walk up a stepped street, and another, to “Paradise, Rooms to Let”. There is an old man at the reception waiting for us, he doesn’t speak much English, but he understands. He gives us our keys and then, closes the office and disappears.
|Agora or the largest flat place in a Greek town.|
We take the shortest route to a restaurant where we order the most wonderful meal that we can think of: pita-gyros (peetah). On a flat bread they spread tzatziki (a sauce made from yogurt, garlic, cucumber and sometimes dill), sliced tomatoes, onions, shredded lettuce, french fries and shaves of grilled meat (pork for us), wrapped in a wax paper. As we will find out later, this is the best: pita freshly made, crispy on the outside, hot and chewy on the inside, tzatziki with just a zing of garlic, not too salty, not too runny, plenty of meat, sweet tomatoes ripened on the live vine in the sun. Add to this two sail ships bobbing gracefully with each wave and a setting sun and maybe you will understand why this is and will be the best pita gyros ever.
Later we walk the streets, buy baklavalaki (small baklavas) made with walnuts and saraigli (rounded ones) with pistachios, all drenched in sticky syrup, but still crunchy. Too sweet for Ileana and happily we eat her share.
|The many kinds of cake in a sweets shop.|
Next morning the town is unrecognizable, so many people, cars wheeze by on the marbled streets, restaurants open where locals and tourist alike drink coffee and nibble a pastry. We board a new ferry, for Santorini this time.
Many like to think that this was the famous Atlantis, but there is no proof. My mind fills in the gaps as we approach the island and I can “see” the huge cone. The island in reality is of a crescent shape with some young islands that hiss steam periodically in the middle. As we enter the submerged cone of the volcano I look at the forbidding cliffs, capped with multicolored houses, terraced for a better view. They used to be all white with blue shutters, a form of resistance and nationalism in a time of Ottoman occupation. The whole island was just a huge flag.
We pass cruise ships, anchored close to the old port, the one with the hundreds stairs and donkey- caravans to haul tourists up, featured in “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” (nowadays they have a small six cabin gondola, but it takes only 36 people at a time, insignificant for a cruise).
|Very, very smelly creatures!|
We dock in the new port where the hotel’s car awaits. The road zig-zags the cliff and after many hairpin turns we drive on the flat top toward Fira (feerah), the main town. We pass “Señor Zorba” a Mexican hotel and restaurant. We smile, there is a little bit of truth, Nikos Kazantzakis Greek hero was brought alive by Anthony Quinn, of Mexican descent. Our hotel has, besides narrow stairs going up and down, sideways and round, a pool and domed rooms, with arched windows and interior shutters. There is even a walled cupboard, like a medicine cabinet. I look closely and find old nails sticking out and irregularities in the masonry. I can’t imagine how old is this room, hundreds of years?
But we don’t have time to muse, we have a sunset to catch. The bus leaves just as we enter the station, so we take a taxi, much better and quicker, to Sunset Point, on the right side of the crescent. Over the horizon a thick haze hides other islands and gives an orange hue to the light. We’re not there yet, the streets are narrow, the tourists are just rambling (they live there in Oia, they can see it as many times as they want), so we're trying to squeeze and run, only to hear “Slow down!” And when we get at the end of the island, we miss it, behind the haze. But the colors are good too, so we linger a little bit more, look at people and go back, along with the others and perusing the art galleries.
|Fira is in the background as tiny light dots.|
Back in Fira we have a museum to visit. Before erupting (somewhere between 1700 to 1300 BC, different museums post different dates), the volcano was kind enough to give plenty of signs so the majority of people could leave. They took their valuables and left everything else. Just a little part is excavated and exhibited and still is plenty: bird vessels, religious objects, board games, frescoes and the golden ibex, made from separate gold sheets and welded together. The archeological site is scheduled to re-open, but no one knows when. It’s mind-numbing to think of the efforts that go in finding things, extracting them, cleaning, restoring, understanding, preserving and if they are significant enough, exhibiting them in a museum, under 24 hours surveillance.
|Different types of bird vessels.|
|Bird vessel with swallow.|
|Offering table with dolphins.|
Before leaving we buy Santorini pistachio, it’s supposed to be different. We don’t have the “others” to compare, but the shell has a pink rim and the seed is tasty. Also we try homemade wine “vino santo” (vee-noh sahn-toh), strong and sweet, almost like an ice-wine. It is made from the unwatered grapes, like all the plants that grow here, their necessity of water taken from the dew. Then we board our next ferry: Crete awaits us.