Oh – The Greek Life!
Paul sat in the shade of a wafting Tamarisk spared from the hot pale sand of the Greek beach and watched the ferries come and leave in the distance. He found it mesmerising to spectate as travellers came and went as he sat still. Not yet having to move. Having the audacity to stay for longer than an island hopper – or the good sense. Or perhaps the good fortune. Whatever – he felt lucky that his odyssey in the Cyclades Islands did not have to be as fleet as Hermes.
He had learnt after years of travel that taking one’s time was essential, for both enjoyment and enlightenment.
He and Andrew had arrived on the small island of Sifnos, deep in the Aegean Sea, just two days before, and they were only just beginning to scratch the surface. Some of the passengers on whom Paul was spying had experienced much less time in the place. They would leave with only an appetiser – much like a bowl of taramasalata that has been eaten too quickly.
Before their arrival they had stayed in Athens for a few days. Paul had visited the city once before with his sister, more Athenian moons ago than he cared to remember. At that time he and his younger sibling had been on the run from a dodgy Greek mayor for whom they had run a hotel over one hot and sweaty summer. Takis, the aforementioned Mayor, had reneged on his bargain and threatened not to pay them their dues if they didn’t stay until the November. This had been quite impossible as Paul had been due to start Drama School in the October and his sister needed a proper job. The teenage Paul and Tina had hit the road with many a drachma hidden inside their plimsoles as they fled the island early one morning. They had hoped to stay below the plimsole line as they made their way overland across Europe with the money they had taken at the hotel bar. They had made it to Athens without being sunk, but only just, and then had had an adventure worthy of the Greek classics. But that was altogether another tale. Paul thought he may charge for that one!
Andrew had, however, not visited the city before, and Paul wanted to make sure that he at least got to see something of the ancients – even though his visit was just as fleeting as his and Tina’s had been.
The boys were residing in a small hotel in a rather dodgy district of the capital. Or so said the ‘The Lonely Planet’ guidebook. In reality, Paul had been rather disappointed to not see a prostitue or a junky whilst meandering back from their first Greek meal in the dead of night. The area to him seemed half dead – not deadbeat – for which he had secretly hoped.
Rather dull in fact.
Come the morning the atmosphere had completely changed. A colourful market had set up on the street below and the foreign shouts of egg sellers and olive vendors brought more vivacity to the vicinity.
Athens was alive.
On the second evening in the city he and Andrew met up with an old friend of Paul’s from drama school. They had not met for over thirty years – but as they embraced, at a small seafood restaurant situated down a small alley close to the Acropolis, the years had disappeared. It was as if Paul had been with Eva just yesterday. They spoke of the past, the present and the future. Time was meaningless. There were still new lines to learn, as there had been when they were training, yet these were now on their faces and not in their scripts .Although, Paul thought, they both looked fairly remarkable. After all, they had both spent half a lifetime performing which took it’s toll. But neither of them were a Greek tragedy. Something out of Euripides or Aeschylus. Thank the Gods!
Back on Sifnos as Paul chugged back another glass of cheap retsina whilst gazing at the priceless view he was reminded again of his greek salad days. It had been thirty years since he and Andrew had visited Corfu on their first foreign escapade together. But the island had had such a remarkable effect on them that neither had forgotten a moment. It was, of course, that moment when Aphrodite was at her busiest and Eros was shooting arrows into both of them at every juncture – so perhaps that first taste of real romantic love had sharpened the memory. Burning each smashed plate and every taverna onto one’s hard drive. They had only visited for a week and yet it had remained one of their favourite holidays. An excursion into the soul. And returning many years later only re-inforced the feeling.
Both Paul and Andrew found the Greeks utterly charming. Other than the git of a taxi driver who had done Andrew out of twenty five quid in the less than glamorous port city of Piraeus. But that was obviously down to character and not nationality as it always is. And it had been terribly early so Andrew was not concentrating. Neither of them had been ripped off for years, despite having travelled to some of the world’s riskier cities. But a meze of morning madness combined with a couple of shots of Ouzo had made them careless when the driver had offered to take them to their ferry in an almost familial manner. He told them not to worry about the price – almost as if he were taking them for free. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts Paul had later told Andrew after they had been taken for a ride in the Trojan horse of a a cab. Still, although Andrew had felt ridiculous for five or ten minutes, Paul knew it would sharpen his instincts and it wouldn’t happen again. Despite how friendly a place was, Paul was always aware that not everyone was a friend. The mixture of perceived wealth a tourist exuded along with the naivety they packed proved too much for some shysters. And the bald, stout cabby with the smoke damaged voice had taken advantage of just that. As the ferry sailed away from Piraeus, Paul looked back in the direction in which the grifter had sped after completing his con hoping that his Mercedes would be damaged in a collision of some karmic kind. It wasn’t a nice thought but he knew a brooding Andrew was wishing for something much darker.
‘Don’t worry about it babe. Let it go. He’ll get his come ‘uppence’ he said soothingly. Although deep down he wasn’t entirely certain. As he knew the ‘what goes around comes around’ philosophy didn’t always work that fast. Not when another jaded and silly tourist came around the corner. But eventually the underworld would get him. That special hell reserved for dishonest cabbies and Estate Agents. They couldn’t get away with it forever. Perhaps Paul imagined this to make himself feel better. But it did. So he didn’t mind if it were true or not. It was a mythology of his own making and knowing that people always got what they deserved, eventually, certainly made him feel better.
Perhaps it was all the travelling they did in the East. Buddha had made his point on more than a few occasions.
The giant catamaran roared out into the Aegean with a noisy confidence and Piraeus was soon a distant memory in the azure distance. The Cycladic wind blew away any residual bitterness and Paul and his partner melted into the blue day.
They sat on the open deck at on the stern of the ship. No longer stern. They had eschewed the comfortable, reserved seats they had in the cabin below for a hard bench and the sea air. Paul always enjoyed travelling this way – it was much more ‘Tintin’ in his pretentious mind, and Andrew never argued because it meant he could have a fag. Especially in Greece, where the rule that meant a cigarette enthusiast had to absent themselves from polite society was not adhered to as keenly as in some other European states. There seemed to be an invisible smokescreen between the proprietor and the customer if one lit up in a bar. Even though Paul rarely smoked it was a loucheness he admired. He had always been suspicious of rules; they really were there to be bent at on most occasions. And the greeks did it most charmingly.
Despite the odd cabbie!
Paul had fallen for Sifnos at first site. Aphrodite was at it again. The boat chugged her way into the small bay. An almost perfect natural harbour where a volcano had once proudly loomed. Having blown its top a few millennia ago all that was left was a perfect crescent of dull yellow sand and a sea comprising of a multitude of blues. The small town hugged the sides of the mountainside, as if for safety, sheltering itself from the mini hurricanes that blew often in this part of the Mediterranean. Her cerulean shutters were not just hanging about to look pretty.
A few tavernas straddled the shoreline and two mini markets along with maxi pricing provided almost everything that was needed. There was still a residue of volcanic rock scattered along the beach but other than that the volcano was was a far off memory. It was now only a lava of lobster hued layabouts that trickled down the caldera. Paul being one of them. He could feel the stress of the recent move he and Andrew had done with his mother – dissipate. It wasn’t Paul’s mother that was the culprit for the exhaustion, but rather the move itself. Paul had read several times in several publications that moving house came very high on the anxiety scale. Along with death of a loved one and going on holiday! The real challenge had been the two flights of stairs which the boys were required to negotiate to get to the storage facility, along with the the weight of the french furniture Paul’s mother had acquired which needed a temporary home.
‘Jesus Christ!’ Paul had exclaimed when attempting to first lift the wardrobe.
‘I know’ his mother had replied, ‘It’s decent furniture!’
Paul had wished it had been indecent, for the sake of he and Andrew’s backs, but he realised why his mum had purchased the stuff. It was certainly decent!
He only wished he didn’t have to move it.
Decent and ascent were two words which rarely went together.
The two strapping fellas who had packed Paul’s mother’s belongings into the back of the van earlier mysteriously disappeared when the lift wasn’t working at the other end. And they’d had a big tip. Paid up front. Before they had the front to desert them. Paul was tempted to give them another tip in the form of ‘why don’t get your bloody arses up those stairs with a bit of Gallic woodwork?’ But he resisted, which was probably best for all concerned.
On Sifnos this was all a distant French memory. The ocean was crystal clear and the fish danced around him as he melted into her gentle laps.
He and Andrew snacked on cheap but wonderful chicken gyros for lunch and hit the restaurants at night for stuffed vine leafs and anything which had once swum.
It was idyllic.
Their jocund and rotund landlady Maria had met him one day in the sea full of the joys of Sifnos. He had wondered at first who the gargantuan woman in the low cut leopard print swimsuit could be as she bounced towards him, her giant bosoms causing a mini tsunami. But when she smiled and laughed the gap between her two front teeth and mop of bleached blonde curls was familiar and Paul recognised her as their hostess with possibly the mostest he’d ever seen.
Maria was joyous. She loved Sifnos so much. Her grandparents and parents had been born there. She said she didn’t want Paul and Andrew to leave. They could stay if they wanted. To Paul this was tempting but there were so many other islands plus they had exhausted the Ouzo supplies in the tiny supermarkets, he knew it was time to go. Despite Sifnos’s more than ample charms.
When he and Andrew next arrived in Syros, another small island in the Cyclades, he was glad they had.
Syros oozed authenticity along with it’s Ouzo. Being the administrative capital of the island chain it had the largest population and was therefore very real. Syros had a music festival and a theatre in it’s beautiful, craggy capital of Ermopoulis. The theatre been based on La Scala in Milan, albeit on a different musical scale. There were fewer tourists and those one did meet tended to be Greek. It was entirely refreshing.
In every way!
Paul knew he had to watch it – he’d be oozing Ouzo from his pores if he weren’t more circumspect. But he did adore the Greek life. Full of fun it seemed to be the ideal. But he was also aware of the song to which he alluded and knew the ending. When he and Andrew were given a free shot by yet another amicable waitress he was reminded once again of the adage ‘Beware Greeks bearing gifts’. He didn’t want to be in the same state as Paris – hiding all the sadness he felt.
He decided he would slow down a touch – but after he’d finished that one last glass.
Oh – The Greek Life!