I have wondered if the space between ordinary and extraordinary is perception – how you feel about the thing, how your emotions guide you in that moment. Its fair to say I, like many in lockdown, have veered from ‘this is amazing, look at the tiny flowers, I can hear the bees buzzing and watch the sky change all day’ – to the doom of big questions I have no control over, like ‘when will this end / when will there be more vaccine doses / when can we escape the island/ when can I hug my parents’. Yes, I have huge gratitude for the move to Syros (despite the kafka-esque bureaucracy I am only just discovering!) and the luck in keeping some work and projects juggling along the past year. But the pandemic induced uncertainty has definitely taken its toll on my mood!
One thing that has kept me going is finding the extraordinary in the ordinary – in the Winter any place becomes small and quiet, I found myself walking the same routes and discovering not quite a boredom, but an ordinary feeling of repetition, like I was no longer present. That this was a kind of life and I existed in it – but no emotions of note rose to the surface; it was neither good nor bad, no drama or excitement, just in the middle. Ordinary.
Realising this was compounded by the smallness of life (a bubble of 2 sharing a living/office/everything space) and routine became the enemy. I have found the trick to make anything extraordinary is attention and mixing things up; jogging different routes around the village, swimming and walking at different times of the day. I walked to town at sunrise the other day – the sun rising as I passed one of the nuns on her way to Agia Varvara. So what if I take wrong turns and find new paths. Or new ways of understanding. Each day is different. Even if on the surface it feels the same, poke the feeling, question it. Do not accept it’s ordinaryness.
One thing I do love is how the little churches offer up quiet refuges on the paths. Someone always seems to get there early to light the candles, although I rarely see anyone else.
The old ruins of an Ottoman era bath house (I think!) are a hidden gem in Ermoupolis, tucked away from view off a busy road. Sadly, graffitied and neglected – there is little to indicate how old this or what it would have once been like painted in its full glory. But I imagine it would have incorporated water from the well or river (which once ran this way under the bridges at Lalakia).
Now the days are flushed with change; longer, brighter, warmer. Orthodox Easter is on its way next weekend and although lockdown continues there is a sense of relief in the season changing. Spring flowers bloomed early in February, only to fade with less rain the hills had started to look dry and yellow. But this weeks few days of rain have brought a fresh green glow to the hills again. The worst of winter has passed. Bringing forth the type of days you can feel the UV and slather on the factor 50. I feel relieved to have kept swimming, despite the chill and whinge at feeling cold – it always feels extraordinary and exhilarating.
Bear with me for the excitement (I did warn you that life was really small!); the corner shop has recently expanded its offer of a wider variety of bread and veg – suddenly upping the village retail game. Although to counter this we’ve discovered the joy of fresh sugary donuts from the supermarket bakery section as a reward for the hour and a half round trip walk. Just an adult version of those treats your parents used for rewarding good behavior in the supermarket, that is how we live! I also have been cooking and baking a lot (I mean what other options are there?) and might just have perfected my recipe for lemon drizzle cake after many disasters.
Although it feels like things are about to open; the Greek PM made some positive proclamations on telly last night – I don’t think we are quite in the clear yet. But some kind of normality is on its way. People running businesses have lived in this climate of financial doom for months and need certainty to plan. Tavernas and cafes will be keen to reopen outdoor seating on May 3rd and inter-island travel should be allowed after May 15th, meaning hotels and accommodation can open too.
There are even things about the lockdown ending I will miss (even after almost 6 months of it!). The island will never be experienced in quite the same way; there has been a magic in the wide empty beaches free of sun loungers and people. Maybe more of us have discovered hiking and found new routes to explore. The quiet streets of the town with closed shops and cafes have possessed a kind of eerie wonder, at times it felt like wandering through a beautiful living museum of marble pavements, shuttered windows, and the odd crumbling mansion. It’s been a place to lose myself in time and again. Each time finding something extraordinary. Even traffic levels have been lower due to the curfew, allowing the air to be cleaner and roads to be a little safer for pedestrians. Maybe there were less people here overall, using less power – and maybe making less waste. Despite the positives, I suspect the pandemic has resulted in a lot more single-use plastic; disposable masks, wipes and takeaway cups.
It is Earth Day today and I have been reflecting on the changing elements of the natural world; even now the warm sunlight is helping the pot plants and seedlings bloom on the patio. The borders we construct between man and nature are hopefully changing for the better. That impact is something maybe I notice more here on an island; a paradise hanging so delicately in the balance, so close to ruin, so sensitive to climatic changes and polluting infractions we all make with each demand; on land and space, the soils nutrient loss, the buildings infringing on the wilderness, the water we pump from the sea and pump back into it – the landfill that rises with each season’s influx of people. How complicit we all are in its downfall. Yet the difference one person can make might be small, but collectively it could be huge.
Will I be sad when I no longer have to text 13033 before leaving the house? Maybe I’ll miss wondering if anyone knows where I am. Or maybe I’ll wonder if anyone even cared where we all were in the first place. And in that itself there is freedom.