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.

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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.

 

Where we find ourselves

I sit watching a tiny spider, one we’d call a money-spider walk in circles around the base of the bedside lamp. Its repetitious moves intrigue me. I can see my breath in the air as I peer and look for meaning in its movements. Something to give it away.  Like a life in review with unknown pleasures knocking at the door, the spider moves in circles ignoring their call. I worry each time it makes a turn on what I think is the corner of the circle, but really a circle has no corner to turn. The spider continues round and round, feeling itself making distance. I have been the spider this year. Round and round, decisions and ideas have swirled. It’s been a year of fragments; joy, mistakes, rejection and practice. Lots of practice. All experiences to learn from.  I mean this is the best sense. I keep getting given these chances and I am not sure I’m making the most of them. Am I good enough, can I learn? Can I grow, be kinder, find comfort in my own skin? Can I stop worrying if I need to be comfortable at all? How much of the past leads us to where we find ourselves now?

I was born in Winter but even after all these years I struggle to have an affinity to its low level daylight and gloom. What is winter but a cold season that flanks the end of the year, signalling closures, celebrations and offering up new beginnings?  All of these musing seem to find a natural home in the in-between days after Christmas and before a new year.

A Greek island in winter is a strange place, kind of charming and oppressive at the same time. Syros in no way is a small island – its resident population doesn’t fluctuate as summer turns to winter. Most of the shops, businesses and trade are open all year. So it isn’t ‘empty’ in any sense of the word. But it is audibly quieter; less traffic, a lower hum of living. Even the church bells sound louder against billowing wind and sheer nothingness. A hazed sunlight hits the water and the hills glisten with emerald green clove – the island’s soft beauty stands out against the grey. Even the sheep bells seem close.

In the rain people huddle in a couple of the harbour cafés instead of the dozens to choose from in high season. The stores are open, selling everything you’d anticipate with a Christmas anywhere in the world. Santa hats, tinsel, the universal offering of Wham’s last Christmas boomed out from speakers. (I have also heard a Greek language version of this – pretty special). None of this surprised me as the commercialism of Christmas has no geographical boundaries. But what was nice to see is that most places only put up all the Christmas lights and trees a week before the 25th. Most families will exchange gifts as tradition dictates on New Year’s Eve when Agios Vassilis  (St Basil) takes on the gift bearing role akin to Santa Claus – therefore the shops don’t go into a horrid boxing day sale scenario on the 26th, as if to mockingly declare the worthlessness of all your hard-earned presents. Things seem to take on a gentler pace here. The children go round singing carols, Kalanda and playing the triangle. I’m not sure if you give them money to say thanks or to get them to scarper! But I do love the traditional winter holiday biscuits like Melomakarona – honey and nut Christmas cookies, we were given a batch from our neighbours which were yum.  The bakeries are full of Kourabies, icing sugar laden biscuit treats. I have baked a few cakes and cookies; almond and orange cookies, chocolate and ginger ones too. G has been baking bread. The things you do to keep yourself entertained and fed!

Random things about winter in Greece I have learnt in a couple of weeks: it’s pretty cold, nowhere near as cold as the UK.  Even when the temperatures seem warm, a high 14 or 15, the nights will be cold, but the stars are amazing. So I’m completely forsaking any kind of style over warmth at all times. Jumpers and fleece leggings are a daily uniform. Going for long walks seems to help you feel warmer despite being outside. Showers are swift and functional, no lolling in a cold bathroom. My woolly hat is a godsend and the hot water bottle has taken on a holy status in a tiny house without central heating. So I’ve learnt inventive ways to stay warm –the silent disco dance-a-thon is a winner – my current fave is Spotify playlist of 90s dance music and the Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack. I don’t think G actually ever dances (he’s a punk!) but I have witnessed him mopping the floor energetically with headphones on. I like to think he’s rocking out to “I want to break free!”

The fact that the only gift we gave each other for Christmas were fleecelined bedsocks says a lot!  Talk about romantic. But why give presents when we have everything we need right now. Also, we had a stash of Terry’s chocolate oranges – what more do you need? Actually, a few things, wine…roast potatoes, cheese and the homemade fig chutney I made back in July – a perfect festive accompaniment.

It’s just got dark here on New Year’s Eve and the hours circle in, closing one year into a slow reflection. There’s plenty news this year I am sure we’d all like to confine to the pages of history, start afresh kinder and positive. The traditions of a pomegranate smashed on the doorway and the slice of new year Vasilopita with its coin can offer luck– but is luck enough?

Time flashes by in the stillness of night. It is a thief. Life is in fragments, fractured slivers – but what makes us human is that there is joy to be found in the darkest of places. Whether by luck or fate or hard work, or all three, do what makes you happy in 2019 and shine some light out into the world.

Stay warm.

xxx

Arrivals

What matters not are the facts of how we got here. As we walk out of the chattering warmth of the café and into the cold silence, the stars seem to scatter across a wide sky. Through the village where stillness marches along with our footsteps and woodsmoke drifts in the cloudless air.  What matters more is the quiet hum of the earth telling us to slow and tread lightly. A moon arches and hangs poised in wait what next? it asks from a silvery perch.  Each arc of light across the dark hill a sign of life, tucked away next to fires, hearths and wrapped in blankets.

After a night of deep but dreamless sleep, we wake to a heavy rain storm which lasts as long as the daylight hours, only dissipating at dusk. It sends much needed water soaking the fields and filling up sternas. In this fading light I venture out onto the damp paths and stare at grey waves edging at the beach. All evidence of summer swept away until next year. A string of festive lights sway across a balcony, making flickering signals to far away fisherman. I hear the feint call of the sea like a stranger.  

This morning the air clears and clouds passed quickly to again reveal the blue skies above the mossy green hills. In summer these hills are parched and yellowing, now clover and grass have sprung up after the first rains. Sheep and goats are now returned to graze.

This place is the same one we left, but now weathered by difference. Winter has sharpened it from familiarity, stripped back its edges, a wilderness prevails over comfort.  

We walk to the supermarket – giddy in the early fresh air and excited by filling baskets with welcome treats. Pointing out not so familiar things on the way. The shutters closed, the church locked, the building work now finished.

In the afternoon sunlight I venture into the sea. I cheat the cold with my wetsuit and swim in the clear water of the bay. Salt on my tongue and sand in my toes again. The quiet roads and wide skies accompany us back to this little house. The little kitchen I’ll make lentil soup in. Eating the sweet dozen clementine oranges we have been given saying ‘These are the best I’ve ever tasted’ with sticky juice dripping from our chins.  Once the sun sets it brings in the cold. We fill up hot water bottles and put on extra socks.

It’s winter here in Syros and we are learning to live off -season.

Still living by the sea

Ramsgate. It isn’t Syros. It’s not London either. I sit here in the basement bay window craning my neck to get a peek of the grey sea. I lay in bed on a morning and listen to seagulls, squawking around and flying over the backyard. I walk over the road to stare at the sea at least twice a day, as if I need to remind myself it’s still there. The tide patterns remain full of mystery. People wear shorts here in October like they are trapped in a perpetual summer. They all have at least one dog to walk. Some say hello and have conversations about the weather. Or recipes with spinach. The sunrises are spectacular.  And sunset’s grand. It is making my sentences short. Like a wave. Nipping against the moon’s rhythms.

I think I like it very much.

Nostalgia: Shiny and Oh So Bright

Nostalgia is wonderful to wallow in. Just for a while, a night, a few hours reliving something to remind yourself life has changed. Peeling away the layers to its comfort. It’s right there where you left it and when you need it most. Emotions are heightened, its noises are sharper and atmosphere visceral. It’s like walking backwards, scary at first, but a relief when you arrive in the familiar. Music has this quality. And for anyone who has lived through the 90s there is plenty of bands reforming, dusting off classic albums anniversary tours. It’s nice to get the older crowd out, and I include myself here. Dust off your old band t-shirt, have a few week-night beers, forget about work/wrinkles/kids/middle-age spread.

Last night we went to see one of G’s favourite bands of all time, the Smashing Pumpkins at Wembley Arena. He loves them, whereas I’m a slow-burn fan. As a teenager MTV was my gateway drug for music and the Pumpkins were on repeat for most of the 90s. Glassy-eyed I’ve absorbed the visuals of the band longingly from afar.

Next month, the band will release their new album ‘Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun’ – the first to feature founding Pumpkins members Billy Corgan, James Iha, and Jimmy Chamberlin since 2000. The crowd is heaving but not sold out by the time the prompt start-time is adhered to. Corgan takes to the stage – a lone figure in metallic platform boots, a half-skirt half-suit costume – all theatrics with his trade mark bald head, porcelain skin and eye liner.  The ensemble, is not to hide but to emphasise the width and height of his 6ft2 frame. Behind him plays a montage of his childhood, sepia photos still-frame and home-video footage, child Corgan with his dimples – over laced with scrawling art slogans.

The video imagery was clever, but also left me wondering what artistic ego fantasy Corgan is playing out. He plays both the creepy looming 6ft Devil and the God-like protector of a virginal 1920s showgirl. As well as the 12ft St Billy Idol illuminated in fairy lights being paraded through the crowd mid-way through. A coincidence on the icy blonde on screen and the one missing from the stage, an obvious swipe or a clever inter-play on the missing D’arcy?

The three hour show was knowing and so referential about its own place in the value of nostalgia and served as a meander through Corgan’s own life as an artist and creator. He’s in character all night. James Iha is pretty chatty in comparison to Corgan’s silence. Crucially both are undoubtedly skilled musicians, their guitar solos more than prove this. Whatever I thought of him before, I realise Billy Corgan is the clever showman. Reported to be rather egotistical, a bit of a control freak with complicated relationships with ex-bandmates. After all it took him years to get the band back together. And let’s just skim over that time he set up a pro-wrestling company.

But this wasn’t just reliving the past, it went above that into pure theatrics. With vaudeville video intros by Mark McGrath, special guests and cover songs; Landslide with Amalie Bruun and a sprawling version of Stairway to Heaven.  It took the revival concept and pushed it into something polished. Corgan seems to step outside of his comfort zone when he isn’t holding his guitar as a crutch, even managing some dance moves (and even some smiles) –  which might have been a bit ‘dad-dance’. The cover of Bowie’s Space Oddity when he appears in a metallic hooded outfit was as hilarious as it was surreal, but was also fun in a show way which lifts the show way above plan old references to the past incarnations of the band.

With a set-list of 33 tracks Tonight, Tonight, Zero, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, 1979, Today – all the classic sing-along anthems had their place. The crowd, whether old fans or new all fused in the upswing of a familiar chorus, ‘despite all my rage I am still just a rat in cage’. I bet there are a few hung-over middle managers sweating it out in their office cubicles today. A bittersweet return to the emotional joy of youth. Even if just for a night, nostalgia is a nice place to visit.