Saturday, 30 January 2016

A Bikini in my Backpack

Two days ago, I finished my work and headed out for a walk, rather optimistically with a bikini in my backpack, as well as gloves and a scarf. There was a cool wind, but not cold. Down at Eristos, the bay felt sheltered and the sea was blue and clear. Jumping in was hard –no question, it was cold – but after the first few minutes, I relaxed and enjoyed it. Coming out, I piled the clothes back on and had such a burst of energy that I ran half the way home. I’d left bread dough to rise, and I could barely wait for it to finish baking before I was tearing chunks off and eating…

Yesterday was overcast, and after my morning’s work I felt a little tired when I took Lisa for her lunchtime walk; not sure which direction to take, I ended up trying a track off the road towards Ayios Antonis, heading uphill on the easterly, inland side of Profitis Ilias. The track turned into a path that was soon barely perceptible and we were cutting through spiky bushes. Just the kind of thing Lisa loves – at the end of the lead she panted and surged forward on the scent of goats, leaping over thorny bushes and pulling me through stands of dead trees. At one point I thought, I’m not really enjoying this, but going back would have been just as hard as going forward, and ahead I hoped we’d be able to cross the gorge and take a track down. I was wondering how far we should go when I spotted some ruined buildings and an old chapel, so I decided to aim for that. The walk from there on led steeply up the mountain and could have been fun if I’d had more daylight and energy.

The chapel turned out to be typical of the many abandoned chapels all over the hillsides. Crouching to enter under the heavy rock lintel – the doorway was now half-sunk under rubble – I tiptoed over a carpet of goat-dung strewn with the remains of a long-dead goat to see the fallen, simple altar made from a column and a slab of marble, most likely ancient. There was a fragment of another marble slab nearby with old carving, the corner of something much bigger… The secrets these little places hold. The walls were bare stones – but no, when I looked more closely into an arched recess, I could make out very faintly the colours of Byzantine-style frescoes, including the top of a saint’s head, with a tiny forelock of hair.

I emerged into the still-grey scene outside, and saw a few spots of sunlight lighting the hills. On the way down I found another chapel, this one built into the rock; the inside had been plastered over at some point, and there was graffiti from the early 1950s. Amid some green terraces dotted with purple anemone flowers there was an old plastic tank and Lisa refused to go near it. The intrepid hound who’d been eagerly pulling me up the hillside was now afraid of an unidentified foreign object in the landscape.
When we made it back down to the shore at Ayios Andonis, we had a surprise. First, the sun was winning over the clouds. 
Then, at the harbour, I saw what I thought at first was someone swimming, just a head above water – but no, it was a seal. It flipped, its tail came out of the sea and it dived down; then emerged, flipped and dived down again a few times as it headed out to sea. Lisa was as spellbound as I was. Well, except when she heard a goat behind us... 

In the evening, I went to Kali Kardia with Ed and Maddie. Michalis H was there, wearing his warm fishing hat although there was a good heat coming off the wood-burner. Yorgos from Filoxenia came by, carrying two large oranges, and mysteriously put them on a table and left. As we were eating and drinking, Michalis came over with a few dark insides of shellfish, dressed in oil and lemon, for us to try. Ed and Maddie didn’t like them much, but to me they were as tasty as oysters. Late in the evening the other Michalis, the owner of the restaurant, came out with a fish on a platter, smacking his lips. He put it down at the table he was sharing with Michalis H, who had clearly caught the fish that day. ‘The restaurant’s now self-service,’ he said, grinning, as they started to eat.

Today, the sun won over the clouds again. Again I headed down to Eristos, happy as it was Saturday and I didn’t have much to do. In fact, I hoped to buy vegetables from one of the farms. But at the first farm, they were working in a distant field, and at the next there was no-one to be seen; and at the third, I learned that Dimitris had the scales and so on down in Livadia, and would be heading off on the boat and wouldn’t be back until Thursday.

By then, I was almost at the beach and happy to walk to my favourite spot for a swim. I made the mistake of lying on the sand for a while – enjoying the thought that I was sort-of sunbathing at the end of January, with the whole of Eristos beach to myself. The trouble is, it made it a lot harder to go in the water. It really was a question of mind over matter. But again, after a tough few minutes of cold, it felt great. And drying off and getting dressed in the mild sunshine felt great too. On the way back via the farms, I found Yorgos and a crew of workers (mostly my Albanian neighbours) dusting dirt off potatoes as they loaded them into crates. Victory! Yorgos filled me a bag of potatoes, then went and cut me two cabbages, a head of broccoli and a head of cauliflower from the sunny field. I proffered money but Yorgos didn’t have any change on him. ‘Pay me another time!’ he said, wiping his knife and heading back to work.     


  1. I love scrambling around and finding things like the chapels. When we were in France over the fall, we found Roman ruins close to where we were staying that were unremarked on any map. Really loved walking around them in an olive field.

    The last time we were in Greece, the Greeks wore heavy sweaters in April and told me it was too cold for swimming.

    1. Wonderful! Yes, there is one local woman who swims all year, my friend Eleftheria, but everyone else thinks we're nuts! And you usually do have to put a heavy sweater back on after you get out anyway...

  2. Jen. As usual a lovely piece! You are so much more eloquent than me in describing your beautiful island than I am mine. I shall have to persuade you to write a piece on my beautiful IOW after you have visited again. Happy days. Peter