Featured

Waiting…

In a Greek mid-winter the sun shines and rain pours, each day offers up four seasons of weather. Like the majority of the world Greece is in lockdown until at least January. I’d like to tell you it’s grim and boring, that everything is stressful. But that wouldn’t be true. Lockdown feels kind of normal now when you remote work and live in a place without family or many social ties. But I know we are the fortunate ones, as this crisis has exposed the grim reality of inequality across the globe.

A few days ago I walked from Ano Syros to Kini, as I watched the sunrise and clouds gather I wondered if the sky would clear and how long should I wait. I wondered how much of my life I have spent waiting. Waiting for the rain to stop, the sun to shine, waiting to grow up, waiting to leave, waiting to get the right job, become something, not knowing what it was at all; maybe something soft and slippery just out of reach – undefined. Waiting to fit – waiting to be small, waiting to be big, waiting to care about things, waiting to not care about others. A selfish human trait waiting around for something better.

2020 has been a year of waiting – inaction – I suspect that feeling dogged many of us – sitting on the sidelines waiting for life to return. But these 12 small months have been difficult. Actions and roles that shape our lives around have been swept away quickly. The year has been filled with make-do’s. But it has also been filled with joy. I knew that as I walked along the stone path, hemmed with green clover and delicate crocus in flower – this is precious, the path, the view, the air – the birdsong, the bees buzzing madly on flowering rosemary. 

I have not had a drink with a close friend in person since February. The last time I hugged my parents was in January. I saw them in early March and they were both ill (we can only guess with what but both thankfully recovered). Media coverage of Covid19 was everywhere, given we had returned from London and a weekend in France. I look back now to the Saturday night, us finding the last available bistro table in a French town where it felt like everyone was out to eat, drink and be merry before the ‘end-of-days’. We laid in bed listening to the rain pelt on the window and the news ticker scrolled rising Covid cases across the flatscreen TV. The ferry back to Dover was packed to the rafters with kids returning from ski trips and EuroDisney. In between museums and beer, I spent the weekend looking for hand sanitizer in every pharmacy in Bologne Sur Mer. If hand sanitiser was goldust – then the P&O ferry was the Covid express. Not one person wore a mask. How little we knew. 

When I visited my parents after that trip, we all stayed on opposite sides of the room. Instead of staying at their house we booked a hotel. I guess you can say we were early adopters of what would become social distancing before that was a commonly used term. That same week in March I left a job and I can see it clearly now as the tipping point of many things personally that create a confluence. The centre would not hold. 

In my last week of work, I listened as Government advisors told the company I worked for that crowds were okay and large scale shows could go ahead. These were the same advisors that would 360’ the advice a week later and recommend a national lockdown. People were confused and worried. But there was a sense of optimism –  ‘ah, it will all blow over’ I click-clacked in heels to meetings where we jokingly fist-bumped and on my last day I accepted hugs from well-wishers. On my way out I dumped a bag of office clothes and shoes in a charity shop, symbolic perhaps, brash even. An ending of things, a shedding of skin. 

I was going to take a few months off to travel across Greece. I was going to write. I was completely freelance now with no steady income, I was done with waiting.  I was leaping , I was ready, I was starting a new life. I had a flight booked to Thessaloniki, which soon turned into the place where the first cases were in Greece. Since then I have spent a lot of this year in AirB+B’s and hotel rooms waiting for my life to start. 

My last pint of beer in a UK bar was in a Travelodge in Ashford frantically contacting AirB&B’s trying to find a place to stay before the UK went into lockdown. Next came an accidental 4 month stay in rural Lincolnshire. That Novotel in Heathrow waiting for the PLF form to arrive – watching one sad plane leave the deserted airport every hour. Refreshing the news, waiting every damn day for someone sensible to stop people dying. Waiting to leave, waiting for Greece to open its borders so we could get home or discover wherever home was meant to be. 

I have scrolled Linkedin and Twitter in the early hours convincing myself I will never work again – resigning myself to the scrapheap of career success. Watching people get scared and angry losing their jobs, while other folks flew high posting about their promotions and success. All the while I felt utterly adrift. You see I didn’t realise this at first –  without work as a liferaft, I wasn’t sure who I was. I even missed those bits of work that were sometimes piecemeal and frustrating – my identity was framed around them all. I prided myself on just showing up, no matter what I faced. Gritting my teeth and persevering. I was a stoic. But when I had nothing but a room to sit  in all day,  even if this was all Virginia Woolf said I needed. I was utterly lost. 

I just let my mind tear round itself with what-ifs; what if I was on the road, I’d feel alive, instead of being in this waiting room of life. I’d be writing. Experiencing new things, the vistas, the views, walking a trail, navigating, map-reading, jumping on public transport. I would feel like I was doing – being – having. All those things I had worked and waited for. 

Instead my brain had a million tabs open and I could focus on none.

And what happened mid-way through the year? Externally, the waiting stopped – for a brief flickering moment little glimpses of normality returned. But before that the waiting stopped internally, I started work on my writing – which is by enlarge the hardest, scariest, thing I have ever done. It meant I had to stop just writing in the dark as I call it – some of the finished stuff needed to get out into the light. And so I was lucky/mad/good-enough to have a few things published in online litmags. I know this is not a big deal to many people, but it is for me. I have no confidence in my own ability – if someone says they like it, I wait for the kicker, the criticism, the really, no this is not good enough, you are not good enough, you are not one of us (i don’t know who they are but whatever club it is….). The benefits of lockdown have been the democratisation of participation – online book clubs, online writing courses have offered opportunities for people not in the right place to learn virtually and ways to stay in touch. If lockdown taught the world one positive thing (no, not banana bread!) it is that we don’t have to be in the same room or even the same country to contribute and take part. I am super grateful for the women I have met on the writing course and how we are supporting each other along the journey. And all the writers I know and throughout this year have managed to keep in touch with. 

Of course, I am trying to put a positive spin on the BAT SHIT YEAR, but I don’t think anyone will forget 2020 anytime soon. For me it’s been a journey of bizarre introspection and sometimes distortion; realising it is not about standing still but keeping everything in motion – even if that has meant waiting. I have blogged less this year and focussed on other stuff, freelance work threw up some interesting and challenging projects.  It’s also Happy Blog Birthday – Four years of chaotic travel content and ramblings. I’ll think about what happens with it next year. But now it is almost time to down tools and take a Christmas break. 

This year will be different for everyone, there might be no Tiers here but there are rules. The daily cases hover at the same rate 2k a day and see no sign of reducing yet. Like many countries they have set limits on celebrations, but our 2 person household won’t be affected! Although Christmas is not a big celebration in Greece; each year more and more trees and flashing lights appear – shops selling plastic Christmas tat are becoming more prevalent.  Bakeries are still filled with treats like melomakarona cookies and the tree is up in Maouli Square, even though the shops, bars and taverna’s are closed. We are staying in Ano Syros where the views across town are beautiful, lights twinkle across the harbour and the sunrises are magnificent. Even if the rain makes waterfalls of the marble steps! 

If the sun stays out this afternoon I’ll wander for a swim – sharp and cold with the soothing tang of winter. Nothing quite beats it! 

Let’s not be impatient for 2021. Best to burrow down now in the season of slow and quiet, celebrating kindness and gratitude, no matter how far we are from the people we love.

P.S. Rukeyser’s poem reverberated around my head for a few months in lockdown. Written in 1968 and speaks volumes to the digital life we have normalised, finding ourselves and each other, reaching out, reconciling and making new ways of living.

I lived in the first century of these wars
By Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

Making sense of distance

The month has turned to November. The season ebbs, showing frailty, reminding us of mortality. A blue moon rose last night so large in the sky it was easy to feel small, far away and distant. 

We have just returned from a little slow travel around the Dodecanese islands – unplanned, on a whim, every few days we moved on, savouring what felt like the last of summer.  Only after the clocks changed last weekend did I really acknowledge a sharpness of shorter days. 

Over three weeks we visited Leros, Symi, Kalymnos, Lipsi and Patmos. Each very different and with their unique charms. Although the weather was glorious there were little markers here and there of the season ending; tour boats returning to the docks to repair. No more bobbing in the harbour plying their trade; ripped flags flapping in the breeze. Their chalk boards with itineraries and special offers wiped clean. The odd restaurant closing up early – places opening late in the day or not at all. Everything seemed on a whim and I liked the sense of unpredictability.  Not having spent a full autumn in Greece before (normally a return to the UK calls) I was enamoured by the sense of things winding down – the slow and thoughtful preparations for change.   

In Leros my dream of staying in a windmill came true. Circular rooms, no corners or edges to hide in. No shadows. Out on the terrace high above Panteli I sipped coffee at sunrise; the clouds billowed and the bare islands jutted out near the distant coastline of Turkey. An almost silver shimmer to the metal coloured water. Islands seemed to float and merge and change shape with the weather. Stillness in the air – a far off chirp of birds, the cicadas soft singing. I wondered if this was happiness and if it was, I’d be thankful that it made me the luckiest person alive. Or perhaps it was so quiet and still that I was the last person alive. Either could be possible this year. Leros was strange and fascinating – slightly dark and edgy history with a lot of abandoned military sites and buildings that I’ll write up soon.  

Leros

Last week in Patmos I took the day off for a hike.  Finding myself alone on a beach in the village of Grikos, the sea lapped calmly at the shingle and the sun was hazy but still warm enough. Still warm enough to swim. Still warm enough to wonder why no one else was here. How precious it all is – the silence of uninhabited places. With hotels at this time of year you can never really tell when they closed their doors – whether it was years ago or just last week. All signs of life stripped away, folded up, closed inside. Hinges rusting in the salt air. This is why I stay; to see the seasons change, to hear the voices fall to a whisper, to hear the sea untamed and feel the distance. Perhaps that itself reminds me how close we are to the people we miss. 

Lipsi

I’d call this a year of almost-things. Almost-here, almost-there.  For many the year hasn’t happened – strike off 2020 and call it over. In tourist-heavy places like Kalymnos and Symi the talk with locals was of the summer that never happened; the cancelled bookings, the tourists that never came, opening so late with such uncertainty, a few good weeks were the best they had. Businesses may not open next year. Wherever we went I noticed hand scrawled for sale / for rent signs. They seemed to multiply overnight, raggedly hanging from lampposts, little scraps of yellow hope. People are rightly worried. The looming lockdown across Europe makes us all hold our breaths, keep conjuring the spell of distance, play it safe. 

Back on Syros the village has returned somewhat to its primordial state. After the rain on Tuesday the hills have been washed clean of the summer dusty burnt haze and looking fresher. The summer houses and apartments are closed up. This is probably the last weekend for the beach tavernas – as warm days will become rarer. Taking advantage of pleasant weather a few people swam the 2km along the coastline from Delfini to Kini – that was a first for me. At about halfway the waves seemed to build; my goggles steamed up and my strokes felt as if they were taking me in circles. I looked down at the jagged rocks below and up to the path on the headland, realising that keeping going was the only option. 

Autumn seems to be marked by vacant spaces making bells, birdsong and animals seem louder. Kinder sounds like these replace the hurried revs of mopeds and cars. Even the sheep are bleating across the terraces. Scraggly sheep herds have been brought down to the village to graze on patches of land.  Earlier I watched a dozen goats munch their way through a patch of land sandwiched between two houses. Happily chewing through the freshly sprouted grasses and green clover that has grown suddenly in the days since it rained heavily. Nets are being hoisted to the fields and laid out ready for the olive harvest. The air is fresh, cold by sundown when long moonlit nights await.  

Perhaps there is a slow violence as the season changes – a shiver of fear creeping into the last of the warming sunshine. Perhaps it reminds me of distance. The idea of distance from all that summer was; slow and welcome, syrupy warm. When it comes, winter arrives in the opposite direction; rushed and cold. Our eyes face the horizon anticipating the storm. Wondering at the last minute if I have gorged on enough of summer to get through the winter, much like a bear puts on fat to survive hibernation. 

I’ll prepare for winter with what we have, where we are.

Kalymnos – Maritime Museum

καλως ορισες – welcome

So we are here in Greece again.

There were times in lockdown when getting back safely was almost unimaginable. Five long months in the UK we didn’t plan on went by remarkably fast and only now emerging into the raw sunlight of Syros, I think I am just about starting to comprehend the potential impact, on the way we live and what it might mean in the future.

I feel incredibly fortunate now to have left the UK. Greece is open, trying to stay safe and ensure the economy ticks over. This is a careful balance – we all bear this responsibility, never lightly. The journey (after many cancelled flights) was nerve-wracking but turned out easier than we had imagined. As we took non-direct flights we had multiple forms to complete – declarations stating we didn’t have COVID symptoms, contact addresses for where we had been staying in the UK and where we would be staying on arrival. Our temperatures were taken twice; before each flight. Overall, it felt safe and the real difference was that it all took more time at a slower pace than a typical flight. Check in had longer lines. Planes boarded and disembarked row by row. Airports were empty, spacious and had a only a minor feel of the apocalypse about them. Some shops were open, but everyone was calm and followed the rules. I even bought my first take-away coffee since March.

We had completed advance Passenger Locator Forms and been emailed QR codes to show on arrival in Athens. The arrivals lined up, some were tested – we were not. Outside the airport I wanted to fill my lungs with the fuggy heat of the city, all that gasoline and sun-drenched pine scent – but the mask stopped that! Eyes and ears had to be faithful senses for travel now.

It was so quiet, it looked more like January seeing all the taxi’s lined up outside the terminal with hardly any tourists to drive. The streets of Athens were also emptier than usual – not that we saw much of them! It wasn’t mandatory but we decided to stay 8 nights in Athens and rent a house in Pagrati for self-isolation – this was for us to mitigate risk and feel less anxious about onward travel to the island. When we took the Blue Star ferry last Friday – it was amazing how busy it was; packed with Greeks travelling to islands, escaping the mainland. Very few international voices. It does seem that holiday’s certainly have come earlier this year for everyone – out of necessity or choice. Parts of the journey were a sensory overload. I’ve basically been living in a small bubble of existence since March that getting back out there is a bit overwhelming.

Suddenly people are everywhere (at a distance); we arrive in the midst of normal lives happening, the bustling port of Ermoupolis with its cafe’s open, restaurant tables laid and delivery truck engines humming. I don’t mind being the first to say the beaches look better with less sunbeds crammed together. Social distance might be the best thing for the human and natural environment as well! The sea is clean and clear, with the cruise ships tied up and less boat traffic. Now what to do about the cars?! Another summer trying to not get ran over and hit with dust as we hike!

Unlike reports from other islands who mainly cater for international tourists, Syros feels steadily busy, not quite at the level of a usual July but Greek and some international visitors are arriving. It is all just a case of wait and see, stay safe, follow the rules – masks are now compulsary in shops which can only be a good thing. Everything almost as it should be here in Summer. It will be tough for businesses to make it work financially and encourage people back safely. But only time will tell.

I have to say that the first swim was magical – as was just waking up here, cockerels crowing, doves cooing, cicadas screeching; simple things back in March and April that were as wild and as far away as dreams.

It feels amazing and strange at the same time to be back – in our little home. After living in 5 different places in the past 10 months, unpacking and getting organised here was a treat! And yes, my store cupboard had yeast and flour and all the things I needed in the UK when the shops had ran out! Jam, anyone? Tomato chutney? Capers?

The ‘new normal’version of travel is undeniably different – with masks on and extra hand washing, plexi-glass screens in taxi’s and elbow bumps instead of handshakes. What is the same is the welcome, the land stretched out with adventure, the iridescent blue of the sea and the familiar heat of the sun, places that you leave only to rediscover again, the places you fall into that rhythm easily and feel a sense of coming home again.

Oft used is the analogy to say that in the pandemic we are all at sea together in the ongoing storm, but on different boats. Not all of us are safe, not all of us had similar experiences of anxiety, grief, sickness or life affirmations; I had a call with some dear friends the other night and some common themes of our ‘lockdown’s across the world emerged. Some were positive; re-prioritisation, focus and time to slow down. Others were fraught; increased pressure, finances, childcare, work and it’s impact on our sense of self.

There is no universal experience to measure against. But for now, life has to go-on, wherever you made it to.

Into the dark again

Stepping outside was a sensory overload. As someone who had not stepped outside the 10 mile radius of a small Lincolnshire village for 100 days it was pretty monumental even getting on a bus.  Face masks and social distancing in practice – although there were 4 people on the double decker bus including the driver.

But I found a sudden and unexpected joy in such a tiny journey. It snapped my limbs into liquid when the bus lurched forward, speeding up the slow landscape into a new light. Poppies blurring a smeary red across the fields, the hills ebbing away, the houses receding back. After months of busying myself at a desk, in a house venturing outside only to watch nature – the closest I had been to travel was pushing through a run as a breathless way of gathering speed against the inertia – there I was moving at 5omph feeling small and magic and excited again at the outside world. 

We locked down in March’s bare branched silence – Spring peeling its way in, unfurling outside the window of the rented cottage, leaf by leaf. Listening to the crows. And even when Midsummer announced itself there were so many quickened hours of daylight I didn’t believe it still got dark. My faith held the elusive night’s existence in the same way I held a belief that this all could be over;  that a world could exist with vaccines to guide everyone equally to safety with zero transmission rates. I still hold out a small hope that we will come through this, better and kinder. 

That same unravelled thought led me to realise I couldn’t remember the last time I walked on a street in darkness – the beauty of shadows bathed in acidic yellow streetlight. Yet all through Winter I lived in the dark, inhabiting the same grey shadows commuting early doors and late nights on dark streets greeting the same worried faces on the platform under illuminated lights. Shuffling into seats and passing days, complaining at the dark sulk it let loose in me.  Nothing foretold anything about what would become of these rituals when the pandemic struck. Soon all the commuters disappeared into home offices or office homes. The furloughs, the redundancies and economic gloom are just one side of the devastation wreaked by Covid – the other is a lost life behind every of the 500,000 deaths. This is the battle that weighs heavy on us all. 

 What did I do while the numbers on the screen raced and days passed quick as breath? Like most people I did not know what day it was and constantly thought about food while I refreshed the endless news cycle. I zoom-watched my friends and family take on new roles as caregivers, homeschoolers, super-multi-taskers and day-dreamers. In less than a few weeks the world became divided by class lines; those who knew what a sour-dough starter was and those on the front line who went out to work each day. I guiltily plodded on and wandered the green lush wonder of the landscape.  I became lost as the wind howled over the flat plains, emptying out the last of what I thought mattered.

I stumbled on a railway crossing where an abandoned bar and hotel stood. Peeking through the conservatory window -the table set as if they ate breakfast, stood up and left. Bean juice dried at the edges of the plate – a violent streak of yolk on the knife where it lain unpaired from the fork. I was always taught to  to set them in the middle to say you’d finished. Perhaps they never had time to finish at all.

I realised that in the high pelt of sun stalks of corn are almost blue before they yellow. I watched light pinging off glass and listened to the sound of the grass being mowed -the hum and cut of blades. I watched rare planes streak vapour trails across the sky and stood still. I learned the smell after rain is called petrichor after the  Greek petra, “rock”, or petros, “stone”, and īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. I inhaled the petrichor at dawn in a garden I first thought so vast, only to grow used to its small strange reality. The lilac blossom and scent of roses outlasted my anger. But still don’t know what day it is or how to make sour-dough.

I am sure I am not alone with nervousness towards leaving lockdown – weighing up the risks alongside the political encouragement to get back to ‘normal’. I look around at the roads filled up, pavements busy and shops open as if each one of us is living on slightly different pages of a distorted history book. Each staking a claim on the experience and working out what route to take. 

Which way now?

Maps and memories

This is how we live now. 

I visited the island of Kos yesterday – I meandered down a street I remembered well and saw it in a new light. Locked up, shuttered and lonely – in a way it looked rather apocalyptic. Grey skies and empty streets. It was December and cold, well that’s what the date stamp said on the images stored in Google Map StreetView. I have been reading Jen Barclay’s new book Wild Abandon and imagining the lush bare pathways of remote islands, and wanted to look up some of places she writes about. Afterwards I wandered around Syros and watched the webcam – waving imaginary ‘hello’s’ to people I don’t even know.  May brings ‘Protmayia’ celebrated in Greece with flowers to welcome in the summer. Fresh picked petals signal rebirth and promise – with the bloodied frivolity of dancing poppies on the hillsides. Women gather to make circular wreaths for the earth, for the living and the dead. A rounded reminder of what comes to pass. 

I have been thinking a lot about what is lost from view now, in our limited sight from windows and short ventures from home. Much of this is what falls on the wayside, what may disappear from view and never return. The news and commentariat blooms with conjecture – ideas about travel post-pandemic world are flooding in; pundits are hailing it the end of cheap travel, the new dawn of aeroplane seating and 2 metre plexi-glass cases around sun loungers. After-the-pandemic is a place we don’t yet know the shape of, not just how we can navigate it, but when it is safe again to do so.

I miss the people watching that comes with travel. Even just the bare bones of it all; mapping out routes, making connections and taking it all in. The ease of discovering as the world kept spinning, offering to be seen in new ways. I worship the idolatry of movement, the luscious fog of anonymity walking through a departure lounge, catwalk to the world, all those people on the way to somewhere. Departing excitedly and arriving back not quite the same person who left. Cheap and infinitely thrilling, a candy floss that melts on your tongue and gone in an instant. 

So for a few weeks I have been playing around with some creative non-fiction ideas from notebooks half-written. Mykonos figures highly as a love/hate stopover on the way to somewhere else. People flock there looking for something Greek island pretty and take it any way they want; picture postcard, hedonism of the super-rich, shape-shifting at every turn. It’s a great place to pass through, criss-crossing the crowd of absurd absolutes.  It was fun writing this – escapism in the best sense. After all, that’s what travel is all about…

Mykonos: 7 hours in sunlight

‘It ends there. That is it.’ he says to his female travelling companion. He offers the words quickly to mediate her disappointment in case she starts yelling again. She is already annoyed at the crowds, the heat, the too tight shoes she was convinced would be fine for the cobbled streets, and now this. She throws up her hands at the reality of the most photographed spot of Little Venice or Mikri Venetia. Little being the operative word as each person turns and realises it is just a few hundred metres of jostling messy buildings opening out onto the water that give it this name. Barely space to walk side by side as the chairs and tables of cafe’s belting out tinny bossa-nova hem them towards the edge and the turquoise water below. ‘Ain’t nothin’ like Venice and we were just there!’ she hisses and stomps ahead. 

The sea throws up a wave that splashes the tourists who soak up Little Venice in all its minutia as they pose. Even at 11am there is talk of money. 

It is an interview of sorts – his soft Irish accent unexpectedly clashing against tanned skin set off by night-owl Ray Bans. ‘You know it will be a good summer – look around – it’s May and how busy we are already, you can make good money this year.’ he says to the two females at his table. He holds his hands open in a shoulder shrugging prayer as the girls cluck questions about the hours and how much of the tips they get to keep. The younger girl flicks her hair impatiently, and rattles her foot on the floor and says where she is at now, she keeps everything. He says ‘you know how it is, short summer long money, take it or leave it.’ He laughs and they don’t join in.  

The older woman talks quickly and loudly, pausing in between sentences to smoke and tells them both about how she bought a flat in Athens and rents it out on airbnb to make more money in the summer. She is encouraging the younger one egging her on to agree to something. Then she says ‘No-one lives here in the winter after this all closes down’ and she flicks her wrist along the seafront. ‘Ghost town with no one but cats’ the Irish guy jokes.  The younger girl listens intently and let’s them chat while she applies eyeliner at the table in a compact mirror. He leaves and wishes them luck  and asks them to call him tomorrow. ‘Avrio, Avrio.’ They all repeat and laugh along nodding thanks with bared white teeth – wide glossy smiles as he leaves the money for their coffees on the table.  The girls’ smiles fade as he jostles across the street and jumps onto a moped, they sit for a while talking in hushed tones of softly accented English conspiratorially discussing the tempting sunshine of the season. They smoke and finish cups of espresso.  One says ‘So what if it’s rented yachts and all you do is smile, because he wants to show off his wealth and stupidity to friends. Sometimes I have to lie to my mother too – Mama, I tell her, it is all good money and glamour here in Greece.’ Slowly she places her hands on the coffee cup and looks at her friend. ‘It won’t be forever.’

This coffee shop could be anywhere in the world. All the talk about ambition and hope, wealth and sights to see. A swarm of high fashion week-ending girls from London take up a long table and order cocktails without blinking at the prices. Mojitos, bloody mary’s, that sickly looking orange wine fizz that seems to be having a moment. They talk loudly about work, fanning their faces with menus chatting about their busy-busy jobs  – vaguely hinting at dissatisfaction in the smattering of truth that falls in the cracks between the things they joke about; the bad dates and bosses and missed promotions. The midday sun beats down on them and the waitress fusses with the parasols until she is sent away with, ‘Oh we are fine love, soaking up the sun.’ More tourists file past the tables pushed too close to the sea, causing human traffic jams as they take selfies over the blue sea and white windmills stand redundant behind them.  

A pigeon suddenly swoops down to the girls table, diving its beak into the pot of nuts and snacks. The girls shriek and quickly pick up their drinks and phones, laughing as the bird scatters crispy coated peanuts across the table. A passing Chinese man wearing an eponymous Mykonos straw hat bravely intervenes and flaps away the bird with his hands. The girls try to thank him with loud gestures in between goggles and prods at each other gym-honed middles.  They don’t share a common language so he just smiles at them goofily, nodding and proud, playing the hero in their cocktail party. He saunters off with his fellow tour group all with matching red lanyards and little tiny keyring bottles of antibacterial gel clipped onto their bumbags. Formed into a pack and suddenly afraid of everything; bumping into strangers, touching hands and cutlery, glasses. Marble streets. Ancient rocks. Each other. 

After 10 minutes the pigeon-hero returns to the scene and in wild handed gestures he asks the girls to pose with him. One reticently hides behind her friends and the others smile as he holds up a phone to capture them in a selfie. Imagining him retelling the tale about the girls and the pigeon’s intrusion. He’ll take out his phone to prove it happened, showing friends and relatives his beaming face amongst the outlines of bold and bright holiday clothes and half-smiles of confusion on the young women’s faces. The whiteness of their teeth against the neon pinks of cocktail glasses. How far the girls try to lean away from him and his hum-sweat of excitement. They won’t mention this anecdote on Monday morning in the office or make jokes about it in the whatsapp group. Back at their desks, counting up the likes from the shared photos and planning another escape, a get-away needed to get through another week. 

A few streets away a model poses against the white plaster and blue dome of a church. Her tanned skin in the tiniest of lime green bikinis, legs elongated by a wide stance, hands in the air, she moves through a roster of shapes that contort her body. The photographer clicks while an assistant hovers to apply wet gloss on the model’s pouting lips – dabbing the sheen from her nose. Others stop and a crowd forms to watch the statue carved from tanned skin perform small miracles of shapeshifting. Elevating her chin to show white teeth, cheeks sucked in, arching her back to throw her breasts upwards, her toes on almost point, making the curve of her hips expand wider, waist smaller. The photographer snaps and she places her arms on the wall of the white background a canvas of pure snow in building form.  A few passers by are snapping their own version of the show to share later; ‘who is she? They mutter.’ The smell of high chemical lacquer and gloss is in the air. Tiny particles of manic luxury wafting towards me, I walk on.  

A young woman marches towards the windmills on high cork wedges.  Dragging the boyfriend to a predetermined spot where she stands still and makes demands of him. ‘Like this.’ she says. ‘Now I’m ready. Do you have the sea in?’ as she poses, also sucking and pushing her body this way and that,  he clicks.  They move close together, in reflex he gathers her under his muscled arm to show her. The girl swipes, zooms in with two fingers and dismisses. Again, she demands. 

‘Jeez, it’s just so expensive.’ an Australian says to his wife about the taxi fare that took them 10 minutes down the road to a beach club. Line up the euros for table service.  Cruise ship passengers segregated into mother tongue guided tours are identified with a national flag. They are taken around the narrow streets where boutiques and tat-shops jostle for attention. They congregate in a wide group at the holy grail of Louis Vitton and snap away, each taking it in turns to pose at the altar doorway of heavenly goods. 

Handsome men stand handing out cards for happy hour shots in blinding daylight, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses. A local tour guide is attempting to impart history to a group of distracted students; while he talks a few of them stare at the phones, others take photos and watch passers by.  The guide tries again and points to the houses on the street, patiently explaining how the houses can only be painted in four traditional colours; dark green, dark red, light blue or dark blue. He tells them his family lived here in the 1930s before the tourists came; the colours are significant, the dark green for the trees that are no longer here; blood red for the martyrs, blue for the light sky and the darkest blue for the deepest sea. He says that the modern colours used like grey and pink are discouraged, the town needs to stick to its traditions. He is losing a battle in the white light and heat, as the kids’ attention flitters and leans into doorways of shops selling t-shirts that splash slogans ‘Mykonos Champagne and Cocaine‘ and ‘Happiness is expensive

At the old port the pelican poses and snaps his beak at no-one in particular, by mid-afternoon the waiter tires of the constant chatter to encourage diners; he craves silence and dark rooms more than tips.  Groups crowd waiting for the Taxi Boats to return them to their ship; to safety in prepaid drinks and buffet meals – away from the menus and temptations shoved at them at every turn. Tomorrow they’ll set sail for another island, another country to tick off. But there is tension in the heat as three angry ladies shout in Spanish at two backpackers who have tried to slide into the queue snaking along the port. They poke fingers towards them as the ripening sun makes everyone twisty mouthed and short tempered. No-one understands where the line starts or ends. The two Greeks running the boat try to calm the tension but can’t decide who is right, so they shrug and let the passengers board in any order. The Spanish women shunt themselves forward. Pointy elbowed huffing, their parasols held aloft in protest. 

‘it’s actually much smaller than I thought,’ one says and another hisses back to ask why they keep getting lost.  He jeers ‘Where are we?’ to his friend looking at a map in his phone that seems to pin-point them in a different direction each time they consult it. The puzzle is lost on them. Tiny fragments of life remain tucked away from the eyes they look through to the screen. 

Just out of the jangle of flash boutiques in a quiet lane red geraniums in pots are flowering, overwintered by caring hands when the skies held grey promise and streets hushed empty.  Here where no one wanders washing lines are hung with children’s clothes and overalls. Older ladies are sweeping down the dead leaves and petals falling from the bougainvillea. Behind the flaking paint of doorways summer girls and boys count the wads of tips and stuff them in suitcases to take back home for the winter. The landlord raises the rents each year and someone is raking it in – despite the hissing no one seems to be able to say exactly who. There is an absence of ruins in this little town’s footprint – a Louis Vitton sign will be unearthed in the rubble in 300 years time, even then people may only vaguely remember how it all changed.  Now in the late afternoon, dark-skinned labourers line up to take shovelfuls out of the cement mixer and lay a new floor in a house that will be reborn and restored. Old ideas emptied out and rebuilt with new. Has any other point in history been so ripe for being rewritten? The plastic debris piles up in the port and a fisherman’s hut goes for E500 a night. 

Even the loudest crickets get drowned out by mopeds, quads and the pervasive repetition of generic bass drummed light disco. Each aural experience accompanied by smooth bassy and up-tempo nothingness. A woman elbows her way into being seen – her long bangled arm at the end of a patterned kaftan sleeve is punching and snaking skyward to feign enthusiasm for the anodyne disco-beat. The music becomes a canopy over the whole town which softens the international mingle of languages and currency.

Pale skin has grown red with visible straplines on shoulders and the plastic scent of sun-oil blossoms in the air as children chase each other across the beach and into shallow water. Waves start making a scene, splashing up and over the side on the harbour in the lilac light after sunset. The splashing prompts awkward mid step halting and stumbling over one another to take photos  – the wave curls over and kicks foam into the crowd.  Click click as another wave rushes over feet to leave puddles pooling on the concrete shelf. People blink with new eyes into their phones and still can’t see to capture it.