There were bees buzzing and, in the blue sky and warm sun, a feel of summer around the corner as we set off on the half-hour walk up the path to Skafi. We reached the sand and I had a sudden longing to lie down and fall asleep.
Work has been excitingly busy at my home office, feeling strangely like a real office, especially when I got invited out for lunch by an editor in New York, and had to explain that it might be tricky. Not that it’s been all work this week, far from it – with a Greek television crew on the island interviewing us on Tuesday, and the Gaitanaki celebrations on Wednesday… But it’s been a full week. I’d finally found the time to clean the house from top to bottom in the morning: filling up a bag with dust and dog-hair. By 1pm, I felt it was time to give myself a long afternoon off. Lisa, funny creature of habit, tried to pull us back home because it wasn’t time to do our walk of the day yet, but I was having none of it.
All ideas of dozing on the sand were pushed aside by the sight of the crystal-clear sea glinting invitingly over the colourful pebbles. It had to be done. I braced myself for the cold water, tried not to think about that first minute as I dove under to see the magical blue, then swam quickly until the sea felt good – the best moment – across the bay and back. As usual I started to feel the chill again on the way back, making me speed up my strokes and it was good to get out, although a breeze was moving little clouds across and blocking my sun. One of the best things about winter swimming is how invigorating it is, though: I was now full of energy and although I’d brought a book to read, I felt like a walk. I’d actually brought water and fruit, and a water bowl for Lisa.
We set off up the side of the hill to the north – gentle and dune-like at first, soon getting steeper and rockier – towards the lone tree that you see from the far end of the beach. For years I’ve looked up there as I swim, and now I was looking down, hearing the waves below on the beach, the old fields of the valley clear from this perspective. Now that I was up here, I wanted to cross the ridge to see the view from the other side. It wasn’t far as the promontory seemed to trail off into a very fine sharp point, and it looked unlike any part of Tilos I’d seen. I love the way the island is still full of surprises for me, and the sun made it spectacular. We were now on the side of the promontory that you see from Ayios Antonis. I decided we’d walk the ridge home.
Lisa gets just as thrilled as I do by exploring a new walk, and she leaped over the thorniest thorn bushes with grace. I feel like John Noakes talking to Shep the dog on days like this (showing my age). In some places, we were able to walk along the old stone terraces; other times we pulled ourselves up and down rocks. Everywhere there were flowers – daisies, the purple blooms on the sage bushes, and endless tiny blue and yellow and purple and white-and-pink flowers. Lisa pulled towards a cliff where we had the caught the most amazing moment of silver rippling sea with clouds above Profitis Ilias. There was a threshing circle on a flattish col, then a tough scramble up a steep slope to the rocky summit again. For the first time, I got up close to a stone-built structure that from afar had looked like an empty windmill; it wasn’t circular at all, I saw, but a semi-circular tower with tiny windows on the sea in all directions, and steps up to the top.
It’s exactly this kind of walk, I realised, that gives me a real break – when I’m focused on finding the path, and on holding safely to Lisa’s lead while we negotiate sharp rocky outcrops, my brain lets go of all thoughts of work or anything else. A challenging walk, with a minor element of risk… After a couple of hours or so of scrambling up and down slopes, both my and Lisa’s legs were like jelly. Tired, I had to focus not to fall – even though we were so close to home, there were plenty of tricky parts ahead. We were a little fractious. Lisa had no patience with my stopping now to take photos of flowers, and I had no patience with her taking detours to scare partridges, or follow a goat-track to some un-navigable spot. She started pulling on the lead when we happened upon a new-born baby goat and a bloody trail around it from the absent mother. My legs were covered in scratches.
I knew if we made it to the castle, we’d have a clear path down. It was getting closer – again, I was seeing it from a fresh angle. We took one last detour to a chapel which was filled with goat-dung and snail-shells, then down the hill until we were under the steep rock walls; I decided it would be easiest to get within the castle walls and find the path from there, so I helped Lisa leap over an old fence, and feeling very James Bond we helped one another over the castle wall – and were safe. We now were right above Megalo Horio, and just had to be careful not to slip on the loose rocks. We’d been out and about for over five hours. My legs barely worked. A simple dinner of potatoes and cabbage and broccoli with eggs and tinned fish had never tasted so good, washed down with restorative beer.
I was planning to write about Apokries – since today ends the first week of this three-week period before Lent, and I’ve been unearthing some interesting stuff about pagan ceremonies to drive out the evil spirits of winter – but I’m running out of space, and with the sun shining in a blue sky and that walk yesterday, any evil spirits feel well and truly subdued. So instead I will tell you quickly about Thursday, when I arrived at Kali Kardia to much enthused shouting and argument.
It seems there was some problem with the reading of the electricity meters, and Lefteris was standing his ground saying it wasn’t his fault, while Nikos the ex-Taxijis turned as red as his jaunty shirt in anger, and Grigoris of the many orange trees stated his case. Nikitas sat quietly slouching in his tweedy jacket and thin scarf, peering over his glasses to roll his cigarette. ‘Why are you shouting?’ he asked Grigori. ‘Are you scared?’ roared Grigoris back. ‘No, why are you shouting?’ persisted Nikitas calmly. ‘Because I want to shout!’ laughed Grigoris. When Gunter left, Nikitas hurried after him, worried he’d been driven off by the argument. ‘Ohi, efige omorfa,’ said someone, he left in a nice way.
Of course everything calmed down very soon and gradually people started to say goodnight and went their way home, and by then we were all in good moods and laughing, so when old Pantelis the goat farmer arrived and seemed in a dour frame of mind, Lula told him she liked his new waterproof jacket.
Pantelis speaks several languages from having worked on the ships years ago, but has a slight speech impediment which makes whatever he’s saying come out in a nasal, gruff way. Perhaps to make up for this, he has a way of elaborating on what he’s saying with large gestures, throwing his arms out and spreading his cartoonishly huge fingers wide.
‘This?’ he said. ‘I’ve had this jacket for a decade.’ He got up from his seat and quietly stood centre stage in the middle of the room, and seemed to be taking it off – but without removing his hands from the sleeves, so gradually as he shrugged his jacket off and it fell towards the floor, it turned inside out. Then he pulled out his hands and with a typically dramatic flourish, like a magician he produced – a new fleece jacket!
Having demonstrated its ingenious reversibility which had fooled Lula into thinking he had a new jacket, he slowly put it on, everyone laughed and cheered, and Pantelis was taking a bow and about to sit down when Nikos shouted out, ‘What about the trousers?!’ Pantelis didn’t skip a beat and his fingers flew immediately to the top button of his flies, making Lula and the rest of us shriek with laughter. Then he stopped and turned around and said, ‘Sorry, my frien’ – joking, joking…’