It’s still dark and I can hear Stelios on the phone to Nikos as they arrange where they’re meeting for fishing.
‘No, I can’t take the car, Jennifer needs it…’
I’m puzzled (do I need the car?) and mumble from bed, ‘I don’t need the car…’
A few minutes later he’s upstairs.
‘Moraki mou, could you do me a little favour…?’ And I learn why I need the car.
Which is why I was driving to the post office in Livadia just after eight yesterday morning, and saw the centre of the island looking breathtakingly beautiful. The early ygrasia, the moisture in the air, had coated the grass and turned it all silvery-white in the sunshine, and the trees darker than usual so their reddish-brown autumn leaves glistened.
When I arrived, the post office man was standing out in the square watching the junior school kids gathering for a school outing (Yeia sas Kyria Jennifer!!). Surprise surprise, there was no queue to get Stelios’ money transfer done.
So I walked down to the rocks, where the water was glassy calm, and went for a swim as far as the rock stack, where I got close to a cormorant. The water was clear enough to see the fish down below, and the only sound was a fishing boat chugging across the bay. A few guys were fishing off the quay, and the morning light was still hazy. Fabulous.
Stelios and I have been celebrating this week – my birthday, and his name-day or yorti, which is more important than a birthday in Greece.
‘Don’t you have a name day?’ asked Stelios.
‘No, we don’t do that,’ I said. ‘I don’t think there is a Saint Jennifer anyway.’
Eleftheria explained to me it’s easier to remember someone’s saint’s day than their birthday, and I suddenly realised what a good idea it is after all.
Life on Tilos takes away any commercialisation of birthdays too. I quickly ruled out the idea of finding him a gift in any of the shops here, and since I’d bought him a book last week on the ferry back from Rhodes anyway, I made him chocolate brownies instead. They were supposed to be chocolate lava cakes but the measurements were a bit tricky.
He said it would be similarly difficult to get anything for me, so he bought some fresh fish from another fisherman, some balades, and even cleaned them ready for cooking (and cleaned the kitchen afterwards!). They’re not the prettiest fish with those huge eyes, which apparently they need for seeing at over 200 metres deep, but they’re tasty.
‘Oh, I forgot, I got this for you when I went to the shop, moraki mou!’ A Kit-Kat emerges from the pocket of the holey fisherman’s pants.
‘How long’s it been there?’ It looked like it had been there a while. But it's always the thought that counts.
Fish, wine, salad, chocolate… we don’t need to go out for dinner. Which is just as well because at this time of year, there's not very much choice in Tilos.
I admit, I had a delightful time in Rhodes last week: being able to go out to cafes like Casa la Femme in the evening and listen to music and the buzz of chatter; being able to pick up a sandwich or have a salad made for me at Eatery whenever I want. I had a massage (too much digging in the field) and went to a yoga class run by a lovely woman I met at the kantina this summer. I even – finally – found time to look around the modern art museum, where I enjoyed the playful portraits of soldiers with moustaches by Theofilos, and the modern icons by Spyros Vasileou, and his lovely painting of ‘Supper on the First Day of Lent 1950’. And then I got talking to the curator, Takis, and he read me his poetry…
I could have stayed for longer. I came back laden with goodies – a reading lamp, a casserole dish, a tasty cheese covered in black peppercorns, a jar of strange pickled leaves. But of course I was instantly reminded of how magical Tilos is. I drove down to Greek Dance class, had so much fun and when I drove back the hills were bathed in silver moonlight. And wherever I walk, the fields are being readied for planting new crops, people shout hello, and the olives are being harvested (and we have a promise of some fresh olive oil soon!). And when I go for a walk, the startled goats and cats make me laugh out loud.
If you ever wondered what noises farm animals (and tractors) make in Greece, you have to see this video 'To Poulaki Tsiou' that’s been doing the rounds over here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcuY9CtYPKs