Burning my fingers

Up in Olympos today, pressing laundry for the rooms, I was as usual being hasty and burning my fingers on sheets hot from the steam press. My hands are recovering from the summer, though my fingerpads are still crisscrossed with cuts in places from working in the kitchen. It’s been a summer of burning my fingers on this new adventure that befell me at Easter, when I decided to help Minas with his hotel and taverna in wild north Karpathos. This place is not so remote: on a clear day when I drive the Lada 4x4 up to the road to Olympos, I can clearly see the southwest of Rhodes; and I’ve been looking at north Karpathos on the horizon from Megalo Horio in Tilos for years – with no idea of what awaited. Yet north Karpathos feels cut off from the world in some ways. To get petrol or money you need to drive an hour to the south of the island. The post office is a souvlaki restaurant, with letters left in a box outside, and if you want something posted, Yiannis will take it next time he goes to Pigadia.
Olympos was eerily quiet this last day of September, the tour groups suddenly gone, and some of the gift shops suddenly closed. One of the old ladies dressed in black (Foula’s mother? Foula, for once, wasn’t sitting outside on the steps and I missed her shouting ‘Filenada mou!’), asked how things were at Fillios – the other name for Agios Minas – and if there were still people; smiling, she said they hadn’t had a bad summer but people weren’t shopping like they used to; still, ‘Igeia!’ she said, we have our health, that’s the most important thing. I noticed two young boys with school bags and realised the children must be back at school now. The mountain village of Olympos was clear and bright in the sunshine, impossibly vertical from certain angles.
I didn’t have much enthusiasm for cleaning rooms again, having told myself the last time was the final time; but the last guests had left them nicely and it didn’t take too long, and it’s always satisfying to see how pretty the rooms look when they’re fixed up with everything in place again and the sheets and towels arranged. I now remember to wipe the crazy Olympos dust off the washing line if I haven’t used it for a few days, though for once the red-painted woodwork of the hotel didn’t even look dusty – this could be the start of a lovely season. We had an early day of rain a couple of weeks ago, and since then I’ve seen and heard more birds around the valley, and dragonflies.
Nikos’ wife was sitting outside Parthenon doing some lacework. I’d heard her call out ‘Yeia sou Evgenia!’ through the open door while I was cleaning the top room. It makes me happy. When I asked what beautiful thing she was making she just shrugged and smiled shyly, ‘Oh, just something to kill time…’ Minas’ aunt Miraflora came out of her doorway as we were talking and said we must come up to the village. Old Mrs Zografidis in her kafeneio waved to me. Dina in the supermarket, and the man who says I never eat, who’s packing up his shop, said it would be terrible at Agios Minas in the winter, no people… It seems word has got around that we may be staying open if we can fit the place out for winter. I told him I’d had enough company all summer and would like some peace and quiet by the sea… We shall see, I said; we can always come up to Olympos too. Dina will be there all winter, and so will Sophia – ‘Where would we go? You need money to go away!’ I bought some gifts to take with me to Tilos next week. Yes, there is still Tilos to think about...
Back down at Agios Minas, there were no cars at all the beach when I arrived, but the young guy who checks the poles for the electricity company, who gave me a ride early in the summer, was back and drinking beer with his mate and Minas. Such a contrast to yesterday, when we cooked big fish for three tables of customers, and a fourth table had kalamari as they felt the last fish was too big for two people, but a couple came along later and took it. We were able to pay Stamatis the fisherman some money to fix his car, and we all sat down and ate fresh tuna, filleted and fried, with salad and fresh bread as the sun was setting.
Today I left the boys to drinking beers, and I made something to eat, then went down to the beach with Lisa, had a swim and dried off in the sun and the wind. Lisa sunbathed next to me, licking my hand to make me stroke her. One couple had arrived and were sunbathing in the shelter of the cave; Lisa looked up when their umbrella blew into the sea. Another couple arrived and sat by the sea for a while but then gave up, probably finding the wind too cold, and left. Stamatis returned – ‘Kronia polla! Pos paei?’ – happy that his car is fixed and ready to pick up. Minas wanted to drive him down to pick it up tomorrow, but Stamatis said ‘Wait, let’s work a bit first, and get some fish to sell…’ He says I’m like a sister to him.
I came up to the little house, the spitaki, to write. Lisa was running around with her new friend, the little terrier/poodle thing belonging to the neighbours who are working on their house. I love the cosy spitaki, one of the little single-room places the people from Olympos keep here to use when they do the olive harvest; if it didn’t rain through the ceiling, ahem, it would be perfect. I can see the blue sea through the doorway, and hear the wind in the trees all around. The bed is heaped with cotton blankets and sleeping bags. The tent – the second tent of the summer – is being phased out. The outside of it was torn up like paper by the sun and the wind, and gradually removing itself. I laughed recently when I found the bag it came in and saw it described as a ‘well-ventilated dome’. Just the mesh interior is standing now.
There’s no more rushing around. All those days of getting up to clean and make breakfasts for campers, dashing to Olympos to clean rooms in time for new arrivals, dashing back to help with the lunchtime crowd, hoping to make it to the beach before dark – finished for this year at least. No more waking up in the night, dreaming that there are customers outside waiting to be served. I can still eat chips and ice cream and everything else I can lay my hands on and still look skinny, after the summer’s activity, but this too shall pass. I am slowly getting back into another rhythm. Fingers burning to write.