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.



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.