Island Muse – Samos

I haven’t posted anything for a while. I have no excuses to add to that sentence. I have lived instead. Not lived in that righteous way one would proclaim loudly from the top of a mountain, in a yoga pose and hashtag in a way that grants meaning only in this time period (and on that note I’m positive historians will have a lot to say about now). I just mean lived as in existed in a regular line of unformed days and routines. In shadow and in light. Hesitant, steady and factual. 

Yesterday something magical happened. Ordinary non-magic things happened too. I returned to work peeling through the unread emails in my inbox, lying unchecked for over a week. I hear you work-harder‘s try-harder’s gasp at the shock of switching off. Yes, my out of office note meant what it said this time. I know I am better for it. For 9 days I was alone with no jibber jabber office chatter to distract. We had taken off on a North Aegean adventure – out to Samos, stopping onto Ikaria and then to Fournoi. Each island very different in both personality and place.

But before I get to all of that,  yesterday I met an octopus. Here in Kini, after all that travelling around and swimming, and sipping ouzo. Here it was just bobbing in the deep end of the bay. I swam my usual lap next to the buoy line and was just half way back when through my goggles I saw something move on the bottom of the sea. It was the colour of sand blobbing across the milky silt of the ocean floor, a master of disguise and trickery. The octopus pondered and hesitantly curled its tentacles around the rope which holds the buoys in order bobbing like a military parade. Its movements were swift, probably panicked thinking of his Kalamari friend’s fate after he noticed my huge human shadow. I think we shared a moment even though I had to keep bobbing up for lungfuls of new air. Eventually he (or she – how do you tell?) was bored of showing me his twirling tentacles and in mere seconds he went from a blobbing mass to become streamlined as a rocket as he shot off into the depths. 

I felt awestruck and amazed having never seen one before just wildly swimming around. All I could think about was can you hold an octopus? Would he be soft and slippery or calm and weighted? Could you have an octopus like a pet? Are octopus our loved ones reincarnated? 

Phythagorio, Samos

So the holiday. First stop Karlovassi, the old port town of Samos, we slinked off the boat smugly with our small backpacks – which did actually get bigger over the week. We disappeared into the port crowds to board a bus to Samos Town that waits for the often late arrival of the Nissos Mykonos. The bus sidles its engine and crawls next to a beach strewn with sun-loungers and bathing bodies lying on the pebble town beach. Old Karlovassi appears before us like time-bending feat of both renewal and abandon. Concrete skeletons of dreams jostle for space alongside glorious venetian mansions, resplendent reminders of the town’s fortunes once made in the tobacco and tanning trade, time may have passed but a different version of the trade still remain in operation – suntan and cigarettes. A few package hotels sit on front as we pass holidaymakers carrying plastic inflatables. Further up the coast things get more interesting as terracotta roofed warehouses crumble empty at the shoreline, we pass fields of vegetables and tiny wooden houses. The odd caravan parked under a pine tree.  Once off the coastal road, for sale signs jostle with resort signs and jewellery shops, then underneath the waving banner of the TUI smile the busses cause an impasse on the road forcing the KTEL driver to wait while the ‘island tour’ finishes its pick up.

Samos Castle Church

The road looks as if it cuts straight through the pine forest slicing the branches out to the deep blue sea as the bus takes the hairpin bends snaking across the coast.  It is impossible to mention Samos without mentioning refugees – it is a fact that 3,000 remain on the island in an overcrowded camp outside Vathy. The refugees are not forgotten, they are hidden. Islands like Samos and Lesvos sit at the front line and are woefully far from the hearts and minds of the rest of Europe. I understand only a little of the complexities and more needs to be done. You cannot pretend their lives are worth less than others. Parts of Samos they want you to notice; the view azure seas stretching out to Turkey, the white sand beaches and awe inspiring lush valleys. But shyly look away at the broken down cars rusting at the side of the road, the piles of rubbish uncollected, the widow dressed in black bending in the field collecting melons in a sack, the staring eyes of the man on the porch as we, the bus full of gawpers, go on our way. Eyeline to washing lines as the bus dawdles in Kokkari.

Changing buses in Vathy is a doddle, the driver tells us to wait for the next one and we mill around the pavement cafe that passes for a bus station. The capital of the island leans out across one long sweeping harbour, a tumble and jumble of buildings is various states of distress and rebirth. Fashion stores, kafenions and slick coffee places line up. It is eerily quiet in the mid afternoon slumber hours when stores are closed; a town in wait yet to wake. If ever.

When the bus turns up we are joined by teenagers pointing at a poster for a music festival in a town beyond Pythagorion where we are headed; the ticket man walks down the aisle while the teenagers ask him questions in different accented versions of English. Some are scrolling through their phones trying to show him the address of the hotel complex they need to find. He is patient with us all, even the irate women who seems upset at having to get the bus at all. She who threw her hands up exasperated when the bus showed up 3 minutes past the hour it was due. Not quite understanding this was on time for Greece. The bus whisks us along another new surfaced road and then we reach Pythagorion – I quickly name it, the land time forgot, or time the land forgot. But don’t see that as me casting a criticism, I celebrate it. Perfection in a long street leading to the harbour jumbled with shops selling every touristic item you may ever desire – bakeries, ice cream parlours, artisan wineries. At the harbour yachts and day trip boats are lined up bobbing in the blue hour after sunset when the lilac light sweeps across the sky. The chatter of waiters and bar staff waiting to greet you, see what you like, take a look at the menu they wink and preen. Pretty teenagers employed to entice you in.  An excursion boat has a pet kid-goat on the hull which makes me feel sad more than anything – but I see a fisherman slicing open fish and tossing pieces to the cats around him which seems to redeem the scene. We stay for 3 nights in a tiny hotel up at the back of town opposite the Archeological Museum, which is worth a visit. 

Pythagorion Harbour

Away from the harbour at night, we pick out tavernas and gorged on feasts like kings. All the classics, we say, tucking to lamb kleftiko, moussakas, souvlaki. Local Samos wine from the barrel.  The chatter of tourists and transactional comfort you find in touristy places is fun. The voices are mostly Dutch, German, Italian, a few English but not many Greek visitors at all. I must say, compared to Syros when you often find non-Greeks in the minority of visitors, it kind of makes a nice change.

Samos reminded me of the long resigned to history ‘Holidays in Greece’.  I half expected Judith Chalmers to pop out. The place that still has a perpetually mid-90s vibe, timeless tavernas with mama’s cooking and shops selling friendship bracelets where everyone has a smile and a welcome for you. The island was an early adopter of the tourism boom with its long sandy, pine forests and azure seas it had all the natural assets. And thankfully still does have them. We stayed in a busy area but seems to handle its influx of visitors well so never feels crowded,  beaches have free sunloungers even in the peak of mid-afternoon. Unlike Syros, with its smaller beaches and relative land size, can feel crowded in peak summer. After all isn’t that why I’m here again and again, bitten by some bug that there is no cure. It is deeper than the superficiality of a holiday. It’s something in the wilderness of the land itself, no matter what dreams have been built upon it since, there remains an essence something wilder, maybe the ghosts of mythic legends like Hera and Aesop.  

We swim in strangeley chilly water with soft white sand under our toes and walk up into the hills. Visiting the Eupalinos Tunnels we find ourselves awestruck at how they managed such an intrepid engineering feat in the 6th Century BC of Polycrates reign to build a complex aqueduct. Over walkways perched over 50ft gaps in tunnels that scale 2kms into the hills, it’s not for the nervous or feint hearted. It’s worth visiting on a guided tour, which they offer several every day. On the way we visit the cave that houses the Spillia Pangia. Here our breath steams visible in the cold cave air. Walking outside again was like stepping off an aeroplane in a new country when the heat and humidity hits you and your glasses steam up squinting in the sunlight.  

Panagia Spilliani (the church of virgin mary in the cave)

When night fell towns in the distance appeared and twinkled as heat rose from the trees. Oh the trees! Giving off that distinct sugary burnt scent of pine as the wind blew its sticky way towards us. The headlights in the distance swooped and swung around bends spinning into dark green ravines where lights were shielded until another bend revealed them once more – each dip a dark place on the road we didn’t know. But under each twinkling, I could learn the difference between the lights on the land – fixed on streets and things made by man, waving outside houses creating ghosts and shadows, and the moving lights of cars, mopeds, taxis and busses. It made me think about how islands can be a muse inspiring little creative moments. 

There’s a long history of literature and music being inspired by Greece. Songs like So Long Marianne – written on Hydra for the gilded muse waiting in the wings holding a plateful of barbiturates for Leonard Cohen. There is a new Nick Broomfield documentary out now, Marianne and Leonard. I haven’t seen it yet but want to, as it examines the relationship between them on Hydra where the counter-culture literati gathered in the 1960s. A time that transformed him from a little-known  fiction writer into a world famous songwriter and how Marianne plays (by choice or otherwise) the role of muse to Cohen’s creativity. Although Hydra has changed since Cohen’s time, softened by the layers of change and progress, it cannot be preserved in aspic.

But maybe some of the magic Cohen famously wrote about in these lines still remains; 

Greece is a good place

to look at the moon, isn’t it?

You can read by moonlight

You can read on the terrace

You can see a face

As you saw it when you were young 

Greek Islands are fascinating because of their quiet contradictions, and not in spite of them. Political, industrial and agricultural changes, discarded life-vests on the shore and the financial need for a tourist filled summer, a village of crumbling stone houses, a pristine infinity pool and an instagram pose on painted blue chairs against a whitewashed wall, wild valleys and deep ravines. Churches and wilderness. Crisis and hedonism. 

These near-uninhabitable jutting rocks of islands can never an absolute place. They end up being a place that exists in different versions, more so for the people that live there than the people that pass through as visitors. Yet they still come to bask in the light, the beauty, the kind words of people, the food, the wilderness, the lifeline it provides. The whisper of ghosts along the way.

Sifnos in Spring

I was in Sifnos back in April. Even now as the wings of summer have opened and danced rays of golden honey warmth across the longer days, to me now that feels a long time ago. A lifetime ago in which I had a persistent cold and snotty nose that wouldn’t budge and a penchant for wearing socks in bed. Both afflictions have thankfully been cured by summer’s eventual arrival. It took a while didn’t it? And No, Sorry I Can’t Keep Talking About The Rain In The UK – it is awful. I know. I know! Everyday I wake up to sun here I do a little sun salutation vinyassa and give Greece a mental and sometimes physical, high-five of thankfullness. It is indeed the small things that make a difference.

So Sifnos was a place we’d wanted to visit for ages. Some call it the perfect Greek Island, a timeless place of mystery and charm. Great for hiking, cultural events, pottery, rural valleys, charming towns, culinary delights – it did not disappoint at all. In fact going there in April before Easter was perhaps what made it really special, places just had a kind-of-shrugging-off-the-winter feel. Everywhere we went was coolly quiet and calm, some places were just opening up, laying out chairs and sweeping off the dead leaves, chasing out the ghosts of winter. As the ferry shunted into Kamares port, the flowers were in bloom and hills were green, the island was lush and inviting after all the rain.

The rolling hills between Kastro and Apollonia

We, of course, went there for the hiking which was top class. Well signposted, cleared trails of a wide variety of distances to beaches, churches and inland valleys. Particular mentions are deserved for the old path to Agios Sostis past the ancient bronze and gold mines, which now seems to be home to no-one else apart from colonies of goats. This beautiful view cascades down a steep path and out to a barren landscape where a church is just perched right on the rocky edge of land, lapped by the frothing sea. Naturally death defying for me to walk down and had to scrunch down a survival cheese pasty in the shade of the church before making it back up the steep hill. But the weather was cool and the rewards were empty trails and timeless Greek island scenery.

We loved exploring the Kastro after the walk to the waterfall which was in full flow. I imagine walks like these are much different in high summer, but at least then you get rewarded with swimming. The church of the seven martyrs was also spectacular as it perched out on rocky precipice with a winding path connecting it to the land. I imagine the streets of Kastro get a bit crowded in summer but in April some cafes and bars were open, but not all. Climbing back to Apollonia along a beautifully preserved stone trail – which passed by ancient olive groves and terraces dotted with falling down houses. This was my hiking heaven. I am now obsessed with pigeon houses and Dovecotes, I dream of renovating one into a tiny house.

Also – the food! Revithia (chick pea soup), Sardines, Horta – local cheese with figs – after all the exercise (and my snuffling ‘feed a cold, starve a fever’ approach) it meant we tried a few of the foodie places too – despite very quiet evenings we ate early at Cayanne, a little pricey but amazing food. Well put together and as a treat, seemed worth it. Wild salad leaves with strawberries in a balsamic cream, caper dip and bifteki stuffed with cheese.

We ate one night at Kafenion Drakakis – a place that had been in the village since 1860 and as tradition dictates still serves meze and ouzo. The small room and courtyard had been recently redecorated but the ephemera of its history still adorned the walls. Black and white photos of men gathered around tables and images of the island scenery long before the holiday houses were built. Modern art and rembetiko music jostle for diners attention. Places like this are becoming popular -making new traditions out of old; one foot in the past, a nod to their history and one foot in the future; whitewashed chairs, locally sourced seasonal dishes and bottles of craft beer. The difference is simple in who they are serving it to. Those men who drank here are long gone, as is the small island rural economy that sustained them. In order to survive people and places have to adapt and it won’t ever be to everyone taste or price range. I get a bit sad to admit it, but no Greek Island can ever be timeless.

I really do like Sifnos. I can see why people love it and visit again, although it is starting to get a reputation as a place where the very chic international jet-set go, (that’s just not my interest or price-range) it still retains a unique charm which I found beautifully inspiring and atmospheric. It certainly wasn’t beach weather so all the renowned beaches like Platis Yialos stayed unexplored for us. So maybe we will have to return in summer! But this notion is the same for any Greek Island (in fact any destination). Anywhere you’d describe as idyllic and serene won’t necessarily be anywhere near that in August. But I really liked its rural feel and traditional life – farmers out herding goats and travelling by mule along the old paths.

We stayed in Apollonia in a little studio complex where the lady brought us Greek coffee and homemade biscuits when we arrived. It was a great central place to just wander and explore with no real plan. Through Pano Petali, Kato Petali and Artemonas, the villages that just blend into one another as you wander. Small cafes on squares and churches on every corner. The locals often said hello and everyone seemed friendly, like the older ladies we saw painting the outlines of the narrow steps that cascade through the maze of streets. I wondered what it felt like for them to see and hear so many visitors walk past their houses, taking photos, admiring the views and scenes. We are just visitors in their timeless land of change. The architecture in Sifnos is typical – from small cubed Cycladic houses, both old and new renditions, to the crumbling grandeur of Venetian mansions, reminiscent of Ermoupolis on a much smaller scale. A little garden centre on the street corner was stocking up with plants and flowers ready to wow in window boxes.

It is an island with an interesting mix of traditional and modern; like the Lakis Kafenion which is on the main square opposite a few boutique and artisan craft shops, old and new seem to jostle along nicely. I’ll leave you with some photos, sometimes images say more than words ever can.

Dryopeda, Kythnos

It has certainly been a few months of interesting climate changing weather. Just when there was a burst of sunshine and the sea started to feel almost bearable for swimming, there it was… a dark cloud over the horizon and a northern wind sent to chill and soak. Like a reminder to not take anything for granted – even the change of season! We headed off on a mini-adventure the week before Greek Easter, tied in with UK Easter days off. By the time we reached Kythnos on the Artemis Ferry the wind seems to have whipped away the storm clouds and the sun appeared again. We are the only foot passengers to depart and other new passengers join the boat here and replace us in greater numbers, a crowd of school kids jostling in excitement and another orthodox priest (ever been on a ferry journey without a priest? nope). We have been given instructions by the lady who runs the place we are booked to stay, but she’s been called away with family emergency. We find a taxi, the only one waiting at the port, up up we go on sloping road, magnificently handled at each turn. Heading to the peak in the middle, a small traditional town called Dryopeda – population 400 and shrinking every year. We’ve been told a girl will wait the cafe, it’s the only one you can’t miss it. She isn’t there, but unalarmed we wait in the unhurried quiet and take in the view. Dyropeda is named after the first settlers, the Dryopes who were forced out of their lands and then settled on Kythnos. It is a traditional farming island with small settlements, evidence of this was everywhere – beautiful lush hillside, but very few trees, windmill remains on the ridges.  It does get a fair bit of tourism in the summer, especially at the beaches and seaside villages like Loutra, famed for its thermal baths.

A path away from Dyropedia

After a while the cafe man comes out and says ‘follow me’ and we do without asking. Trusting folk so we traipse behind him into the maze like streets and up to a house next to the tiny Evangelistria Chapel. They key is in the door of course. He lets us in to the little stone house, traditionally decorated, even with an old singer sewing table, a wrought iron bed tucked away in a recess in the sala room and a stone kitchen – modernised but with touches of its past on the antique furniture and white lace curtains. Like all traditional village houses the windows are small and walls are thick – the house stays cool in summer. But in winter an even now in April it’s cold but we are thankful of an electric heater and electric under blankets on the bed. He promised to come back with batteries for the air-con later. The view from the tiny square kitchen window is magnificent over to green hills – I swear I see a rabbit hopping on the hillside.

Beckoned by the sun we take a path that follows an old and uncleared trail up to the Church of Konstandinos and Eleni. It passed a lush valley with water still flowing in brooks from the recent rains. There was even frogspawn in the old springs.

I say it all the time but this year the spring flowers are exceptional – the blood red of the poppy standing out against a sea of bobbing yellows and white, the greenest green leaves and billowing tall grass. The fields here are full of goats, sheep and horses munching away on this bounty. The trails aren’t well marked and we are breaking through undergrowth to reach the church – a beautiful view greets us.

But because we know – and we are always warned – about snake season. Yet despite the hiking we do snakes have evaded us so far. Or we have evaded them. Not this time. G sees one in front of him – he shouts snake, I don’t see it. It scatters (or slithers?) he is strangely calm, I freeze, like a loon and scan, I want to see it too. Even though we don’t know if its a biter – we bolt, over the gate breathless and hearts beating loud, fear in our mouths. The first  Φίδι (fidi) and not even time to take a snap.

The village in the afternoon is quiet –  but the supermarket is a hive of activity doing a stocktake so I ask which tavernas are open. The boy who is sent to serve us looks at me and takes a deep breath like a gas fitter about to tell you the worst news about your boiler. ‘Well, there is one open. But only later tonight – after 9′. Thanks we say. This happens a lot over the next few days as children are sent to speak to us. ‘Ah a foreign tourist, send the child to practice his English!’ It’s nice in a way – family ran and kids pitching in to help out and learn.

Not even Easter yet and places look shut up – it’s fine, we’ll cope we talk between ourselves. Worst case scenario we’ll eat a sweet crepe and ice cream for dinner from our mate at the Cafe. After venture out half-believing sudden crowds would emerge from doorways and fill the cobbled agora street and huddle outside cafes with children playing in the streets at dusk. We are wrong. It is cold and damp, a wind scuttles through the streets and even the fiercest cats hide away. There are 4 men drinking coffee in the cafe, we order beers and our friend returns the remote control with new batteries. Eventually we brave it to the place the boy in the shop told us about. It’s a old style grill house and we enter with trepidation at first. It looks like a child’s birthday party is happening in one corner as a long table is inhabited by over excited almost teen kids with cans of pop and sticks of souvlaki being brandished like swords as they play music on their phones. A young boy gets sent over to take our order – dragged away from his friends at the table.  We try to speak Greek and he replies in his best school English.

A woman comes in hurried, holding a cake, smothered in white cream icing and chocolate sprinkles. She presents it to the table, kisses her boy and returns helping herself to plates in the back and a dozen forks.  His grandma enters – more kisses for the birthday boy on each cheek. More arrivals and another table hastily set just in time for singing. Someone hands the mother h a lighter. A Happy Birthday song in Greek, loud and overdrawn and then they try in English, a few unsure of the words, following along. All filmed on phones, snap-chatted to those not here – whatsapped to cousins in Athens, a brother in London. These kids, like everyone now, are always connected. This world draws them like invisible thread and will one day call them out from here to other places. Other futures.

The next night we locate another eatery which is open. Inside, the warmth greets us with food smells hovering in the air. Again a no menu place we are the only customers apart from a man who eats alone watching the news channel on a TV in the corner. The elderly owner lady hobbles over and tells us in half-greek, half english what she will serve us. “Meat, chips, horiatiki salad. Neh?’ – Krasi, neh? – it’s like ordering the best mystery dinner ever.  We wait and watch her in the kitchen chipping potatoes and loading them in the deep fat fryer – she loads up a tray with glasses and cutlery and brings it over with the wine and beer. She prepares a salad for us, goes back, slices bread, brings it over. Every time she hobbles back to our table I feel a pang of guilt about her ankle which is bandaged and her advancing age – it looks like her husband has passed away. Photos of them smiling, decades ago with clambering children on their laps adorn on the wall. A single photo of him close up stands next to a icon of Jesus.  I want to say, ‘you have a sit down tell me where everything is and I’ll fetch it.’ But you just can’t. She just carries on.

The man pays and leaves. We are served steaming plates of rabbit stifado (kuneli) served in the traditional fashion, complete with bones and bits of liver and heart with whole onions and cloves glistening in the rich red sauce. It is delicious and we are thankful for ‘real food’ and warmth. Crepes for dinner sounded like a good idea, but this is better. The lady sits down to rest a while at our table as we pay the bill – we share some conversation with her, where we are from she tells us proudly this is her place, she has lived in the village all her life. It is a good life. What more is there. With good wishes for the upcoming Easter we part and head off into the night.

The village is just waking up and people are out the next day painting white outlines on the cobbled walkways and repairing doors. The Katafiki Cave is kind of open, as in the gates were open and you could see down to where the cave opens and the steps end. But a sign on the door says ‘Do not enter the caves without a helmet and a guide’ there’s no one around despite appearances. So we hover taking photos but not venturing right in – there’s no lights on  down there either so decide he’s probably just on a break. But we don’t go back to check.

I like to just wander villages like this – admiring the stillness, listening to everything breathe, the birds chirping in the trees, the sweep of the brush as a lady piles up rust coloured leaves. The stories in each street over hundreds of years are all hidden here somewhere.

A pause at each one in turn; every roof on a house a dream, a shelter, a nightmare, left to rot, a birthright, a millstone, brought back from disrepair – all on fragile foundations.  The cracking panes and stone walls crumble, photos mouldering in the frames. The salt on the door handle corroding until it no longer turns.

We leave and take the Adamantios Korias Ferry to Sifnos – a different world awaits.

More soon…

Sounds of Spring

This time, this time. And again we are repeating. No adventure on the way – small bags, travel light I insist, and then fail every time. We wandered the streets of Athens in bright sunshine, our eyes blinking to adjust to the light. Laughing at old jokes, making up commentary on the things before us. The red skins of sunburn on our fellow tourists on this hot March day when the sun finds its heat again. The locals fan themselves in the shade and order hot coffees – they will not be fooled by this temporary charade of summer.

At the little To Glyko, tucked away in the Plaka we gorged on plates of Bekri Meze and garlicy pazarasalata, dipping hunks of bread in juicy sauces we act half-starved and weary.  We have been here before, is it repeating or finding something familiar? I call it adjusting, blending distance and closeness, familiar and strange. In these the words to find comfort in,  I wonder about home and know it is just that simple:  an idea, a place that calls and its echo lays deep in your heart. You carry it everywhere.

The ferry was quiet and swished under the sunset arriving into Ermoupolis without fanfare or fuss.

In that silence of a damp night when an almost full moon was gathered at the edges of the spring equinox, we listened on the terrace to the sullied sound of water condensing on the cold metal roof and dripping. Suddenly we could hear the sea. It’s a way off, down the street, past the church and the shop, past the mermaid statue that marks the end of the road. Here the mermaid faces inland rather than out at sea. I think she’s longing to turn as they call her back. Back to the arms of the sea, back to her people. But in the stillness that sound of the sea reached right up to us. It was lapping like tongues licking waves at the shore. In a minute or less the sound was gone, the ferry had passed. But each wave brought a magic to that still night with pine in the air and spiders rebuilding webs, spun for shelter.

It has been a long wet and cold winter on the island, and even now in late March on the old river bed past Ano Syros a trickle of water runs. I ask and they say it has it been unusual, and others say , the coldest and wettest for a long time. I wonder what long means. It is good for the fields, good for the sternas, full of bounty. But people get sad when the pale arms of winter have held them too close for too long.

I hear the clocks. Ding, ding and the church bells are suddenly on time.  As long as I’d known them, they were always 5 minutes ahead of the hour. This spells disaster, surely this will mean that everyone in the village is now 5 minutes late.

For the first few days, time rushes as tasks need completing and we don’t worry about being early or late. The wind howls outside abstractly and untethered. Rattling doors and gates. Washing lines blowing in the 70km gusts. We sleep early in darkness before the clocks change. The night compels the body to sleep with near silence outside seeping into our brains, hushing them from constant hurry of the tick tock of life outside this room. Sometimes to only hear the drip drip of the bathroom tap and a cockerel out on the fields crowing is heaven. It must be nearly dawn. But I am awake with a still mind and restless body.

The earth comes alive again. Spring flowers are crawling into the light and I can almost hear it all growing under the red dust earth. A rare and beautiful time, only cars and wild beasts disturb us.



All are just fragments

If you take a photograph just here. The place where the sand meets the dry stone wall, the cracks have now been filled with moss and a decaying limestone grout. A view like this will make the bay bow before you. The right angle where the sky meets the sea with the same lilac haze that blends both into being one. Glassy and glowing at the edges with short bursts of puffy white clouds, where moisture has swirled into the air.

Here the sand looks golden, dark like syrup. Look. It is fringed not by palm but tamarisk trees with their wispy fronds and pollen. In Spring flowers will line the paths, leading you there. In high summer the beach lilies stand out with white delicate scented flowers. Nature has dictated its will here. You can capture it in one single shot. Filling your screen with the view you want to live with, live by and up against. This is what we dream of, isn’t it? Each day we fill the grey space, the blank page seeping into dry bones – to trade it and come home a view like this. Find a stillness that rises at dawn with the sound of the roosters crowing and ends settled in orange fire with the chirp of cicadas in the trees. The twinkle of moonlight reflected on the ripples of waves in the bay, the chuckle of glasses cheering. Isn’t this what you wanted? Just a glimpse.

I had a week of commuting along with my first world problems tucked in a backpack, wedged in the lines of my face,  silently seething along with the chunter and shunt of the train tracks late at night. There were slow wet tears just on the edge of sadness. Prompted by a small offering of injustice. The sobbing woman begging with her hands outstretched at Cardinal Place – these glass edged hallowed halls of consumerism like cathedrals of shame, making the city unrecognisable again. Starting over. Bone broth and flat whites, vegan donuts. My friend says we could be walking anywhere. Singapore, San Francisco, Dubai. We are in nowhere-land-London.

Homeless crowding in fewer and fewer doorways. The tent city sprawls at the back of Victoria station. My heart breaks in tiny fragments each day as the gap widens and plays on.  The protests in parliament square are seething with comical boredom before angry unrest. Divisions in the lobby. Divisions on the bus. Some days I don’t read the news. I need closed text, bright horizons and to keep looking at that photo.

I came back to the surface, tired and bleary eyed wanting nothing more than the kind of love you find on a Sunday afternoon snuggled on a couch. Warm against the cold outside, a blanket of kindness.  I realised I just wanted small things. To be safe, to be warm, to love. The human needs not everyone has in sight. Roll that in your palm, hold a feeling so momentary. Ephemeral.

On a train journey I watched a documentary about the Express Scopelitis. It’s a famous little ferry that connects the small Cyclades line and has been a family run operation on Amorgos since 1953. It’s a cold December when parts of it were filmed. The father is  80 and they show him playing the violin on his wife’s name day. The room full of love and food and song.  The boat circles its route in wild storms, barely picking up a passenger at each port. Along the barren line like a duty, delivering supplies and lives. The Captain Giannis tells of his bravery at sea, getting sick islanders to Naxos for medical appointments. The Orthodox priest blesses the boat on St Nikolas day as the boys dive into the sea for the cross under the sharp January sun when all the world looks in perfect focus. It’s one of my favourite boats, having taken it to Donoussa in a storm and Iralkia in a strike I know why the Express Scopelitis is a legend in these islands. It always sails no matter what. Packed with tourists in summer and crammed on at Naxos, Schinnoussa, Koufonisia, Amorgos, Iraklia and Donoussa.

Each island stop a tiny collection of changing lives and fragments of Greece on the edge of nowhere, Aegean. Watching it made me feel nostalgic and homesick. For things I didn’t know, little mysteries spun like webs in that lilac sunset.


All those islands I’ve never been to seem to stack up like postcards on the carousel outside the shop. I’d like to get a chance to collect them – write each one down. Until then I’ll keep that still fragment in my mind.