Monthly Archives: March 2010

Catch-22

Oia from Ammoudi Bay (Photo Credit: Heather Kirk, from SMH website)

There is a character in the brilliant novel Catch-22 that deliberately sets out to do things he hates because he wants his life to seem to last longer.

Tonight, I followed in his footsteps.

I have always looked at the two bays, Armeni and Ammoudi, which sit underneath Oia, with a bit of curiosity.  For Armeni, I’ve never been there, but see donkeys and tourists going up and down so inevitably wonder what’s going on down there.  As far as I know, it is actually the former cruise ship stop, now only used for local boats to and from the other islands within the Caldera.  As I sit on my balcony, I laugh as I see tourists too proud to take the donkeys heaving and panting their way up the stairs, following barebacked donkeys.

The other bay is Ammoudi Bay, which I have visited before and is a little fishing village well-known for its fish tavernas, views of the sunset, and colourful fishing boats bobbing in clear beautiful water .  There are two ways to Ammoudi: the road or steps.  My buddies in Skiza told me that Ammoudi’s tavernas opened yesterday so, this being my last night in Oia, I immediately decided that tonight’s would be a fish dinner.  As you can see from my Twitter post of 10 short hours ago, I figured I had “Buns of Steel” after nearly a month here, so would kill it.

It started out nicely enough: I decided to head down the road rather than the steps, and soon realised that the road was a much more roundabout way to get there.  A kind local stopped and offered me a ride – hurrah!  After a little walk around the bay, I enjoyed a beautiful fish dinner.  As an aside, I should let you know that seafood is very expensive in Greece.  Yeah, I know – you didn’t expect THAT, did you?  Greece is, basically, massively over-fished, mainly for us tourists.  Ammoudi’s Sunset Taverna charges around E65 per kg for most varieties of fish but, if you want their specialty (lobster spaghetti), be prepared to fork out E95 (yes, my friends, that’s around $160 for a plate of spaghetti!).

Luckily for me, the taverna had a fresh catch of my favourite fish, red mullet (in Greece, known as barbounia, or “King of Fish”), caught just this morning.  It gives the mullet a good name for a change, and is a beautiful, delicate white-fleshed fish with red skin.  I asked the waiter if the stairs had lights at night: “Yes”, he replied.  Oh good.

After the sunset, as the light faded, I realised I would have to make tracks and head up the stairs before the light died, so up I went.  Well…it took me about 10 steps to regret the decision but, being Queen of Morons, I kept going.  There are, reputedly, 230 steps between Oia and Ammoudi.  However, I beg to differ.  First, Lord knows where the formal “Ammoudi steps” actually begin, but I can assure you that, even after 230, there are plenty more where those 230 came from to reach home.  Plus (and this is the worst part) the steps themselves are SLOPED and LONG.  Yes, so even when you climb the step itself, each step qualifies as a little hill all on its own, and I reckon each one is worth at least 2, but more like 3 normal steps.

Oh and, by the way, THERE ARE NO LIGHTS.

Moron that I am, I kept going so I could tick this off my list, and found myself racing against the last of the sun’s light to ensure that the path was lit up ahead of me.   Naturally, the path was strewn with rocks and crevices so that you really do need light to get to where you are going or risk turning an ankle or, in my case, certain death.

Up and up, stopping, heaving, what was I thinking hauling my lard ass up these babies.  My life flashed in front of my eyes: Mum, is that you?  When would this end?  Am I half way yet?  Holy shit, batman, it’s too late to turn back.  I wonder if I can call someone to come get me.  Will it be too cold to spend the night here?  Why the F*** didn’t I organise a taxi.  Will they be able to find my Will?  Where are those fricking donkeys when you need one? Finally, TWENTY FIVE LOOOOOONG MINUTES LATER: Is that the clanking of cutlery I hear?   Lights appear on the steps.  Laughter, non-morons eating their dinners.  Suddenly, the steps were numbered…215, 216, 217…I stopped by a man out plastering the front of his house.  “Hello” his little boy said.  “Are you OK?” asked Dad.  What’s Greek for “Call an ambulance?”

But, of course, the steps KEPT GOING.  There must have been another 50 or 60 to get home, and then down my 90…OMG, I’m still alive.  Apologies for no photos: it’s almost certain that, whenever I head to an Oia sunset, my camera or battery die, and tonight was no exception.  And, to be honest, I’m just glad to be alive and photos are really unnecessary in such a situation.

And, like Yossarian’s crazy friend, my last night in Oia is lasting a lifetime.

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Full moon

If you think Oia is spectacular by day, just wait till you finish dinner in a taverna and make your way back down those stairs.  A full moon will light up the stairs below you, and if you pause to look around, you’ll see another side of Oia. 

 The moon glows above the caldera, casting a pathway across the water, and the white houses tumbling down the cliff face glow in the gentle light. Strings of light perch on tall cliffs along the tall circle of the island under a sky full of stars. 

 Tonight is Sunday, and there are only two things to be heard.  Directly below, waves ebb and flow against the rocks at the water’s edge.

Above the waves, in the village, a priest chants, his Byzantine tones broadcast across the town from the church.  His voice echoes across the water, sending a haunting song across the Aegean. Nightime in Oia is surreal; perfection.

The Oia you see in photos is always in the day: blinding sun bounces off perfect white and blue houses. But you have to be here to experience the night when there are no tourists to be heard, no music from the tavernas. 

It’s like my secret Oia, just the waves and the song and the feel of the cool breeze against my face.

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A Day in Oia

Mum on Skype, halo visible (also self-portrait)

Monday 29 March 

It didn’t take long for my daily life here to settle into a familiar routine.   I cannot believe that I have been in this magical place for over 3 weeks now, and have just over 3 short days left.  Already, I am hatching plans for my return, this time for even longer. 

This is how my days have whiled away here in Oia (pronounced Ee-ya, by the way). 

I usually wake up at around 7 or 8.  The last couple of mornings, I’ve woken at 6, stumbling out into the cold morning to see the colours of the sunrise.  I am now 8 hours behind Sydney, as Greece has entered daylight saving, which becomes 7 once Sydney moves out of daylight saving this weekend.  I don’t know about you, but whenever we go into daylight saving, I feel I’m being ripped off an hour – like someone came along and pinched it.  So, not only didn’t I get back the hour I lost in Sydney (which I breathlessly wait for each Autumn) but I lost ANOTHER hour since I’m here in Greece.  Can someone please explain that to me?? 

Tyler hams it up on Skype

When I wake, I usually check my emails on my iPhone and call mum and maybe a friend before fixing myself a breakfast.  By the way, I LOVE waking up to find emails or a blog comment from you guys, and especially a phone call on Skype, so don’t hold back! 

Breakfast is usually toast or thick, comforting Greek yoghurt with walnuts and honey and maybe some fruit.  Once or twice a week I will knock up an omlette on the portable stove in the kitchen.  Now, I need to tell you about Greek yoghurt and honey: it’s off the charts good.  Last time I was here with Margaret, she became completely addicted to the yoghurt, honey, walnut combo.  Although the yoghurt is beautiful (yes, even the low fat version), it’s the honey that sets it apart.  Margaret pointed out to me that the honey in Greece isn’t sweet like Australian honey is.  I don’t eat a lot of honey at home, so I’d never really noticed its extreme sweetness until I went back and tested it out – she was right!  But I’m addicted to it here; most of it is collected from happy bees who feed on hillsides strewn with wild thyme and oregano.  My favourite Greek honey is from the Peloponnese and in Athens I buy 900g jars of it to lug home with me (yes, the Border Security dudes DO let it through as long as it’s not home-made.  Despite this, I might once  have snuck through a jar bought from a lady by the side of the road in Crete). 

After breakfast, it’s a shower and a little clothes washing.  Now, I’m going to give you a product endorsement here: Wash Well Travel Laundry Detergent (left – please excuse the sideways photo).  You can buy it in the luggage section of DJ’s and probably Myer.  Only a tiny amount is needed, and this stuff lifts stains and dirt so far out of clothes, you’ll be embarrassed how dirty they got when you check out the water.  I wash each day if I can, and go through a tube every 2 weeks, and just yesterday I used it to get an ink stain out of a linen top (no kidding).  I have to confess that one thing I LOVE is hanging my clothes out on the washing line in front of House Paris – I like to think of my clothes being “kissed” by the Greek sun!  

Soon after this, at around 10am or 11am, it’s up my 90 stairs to Skiza where I greet Giorgos and any of the locals who beat me there with a “Kalimera”.  Giorgos smiles, and I take up my position on the corner of the balcony and he brings me a double Greek coffee, which comes automatically with a glass of water (to cleanse the palate).  Giorgos leaves me much to myself after that, and socialises with the locals who drop by in a never-ending stream, as well as stray tourists and cruise ship snappers, who don’t stay long since their bus is usually waiting for them.  Some mornings, if it’s windy, Skiza’s balcony doors are shut and I’ll stay at House Paris as it’s protected from the wind.  One day, I headed to Skiza in the afternoon and they plied me with hot chocolate and Baileys, which I must confess made the view even better. 

In Skiza, I sit, and stare, and sometimes read or play with my iPhone (Skiza has Wi-Fi).  Usually, I hang out there for 2-4 hours, and maybe even order lunch (I recommend the Mediterranean salad, or the  spag bol).  About a week ago, I met the lady who makes the bougatsa and the galaktoboureko, and she’s made both for me!  Such a difficult choice, and naturally I order a slice if it’s there. 

Tomato salad

Flash fried prawns (yes, folks, complete with heads which you EAT) and chips

At around 1 or 2 I meander back to House Paris, sometimes stopping by the bakery to stock up on some bread, and the supermarket to replenish supplies, or perhaps to have lunch (I eat out around once a day).  

When I return to House Paris and set myself up on the balcony.  Since Chelonia Bay is protected from most of the wind, even a 13 degree day feels warm in the Greek sun.  By around 5pm the sun has disappeared behind buildings, and my balcony starts to fall victim to the coolness of the day, so I head inside to email, blog, read and stuff around on my iPhone (I am addicted to a little game called Flight Control). 

Fresh Dolmades with tzatziki (please excuse the foil takeaway container!)

In my first couple of weeks, at around 6pm I would head upstairs to the sunset, and then off in search of dinner, most often the Polski Lokal, but this week more and more places are open so I’ve started to branch out.  My favourite place that’s open is Roka, where I took Erika and Rose the other night to say thanks.  It’s styled as an ouzerie, but with the BEST BEST BEST dolmades.  I don’t normally eat dolmades at home as I have only ever experienced the tinned ones and I find them too lemony/tart for my taste.  These ones, though, are home made and truly magnificent and I’m inspired to try and make them at home. 

The last couple of nights, my doggie friend has caught up with me on my way back from dinner, following me down to House Paris.  I give him water and a snack, and he makes himself comfy on my rug, each night ending up closer and closer to my bed!  I know, it’s a difficult day and I can’t work out for the life of me how I used to fit so much into the day before my holiday.  

After the last throes of winter in my first week here, the days are turning more and more magnificent.  It’s as if Spring has announced its arrival, and the sky and water co-operate by turning the most stunning blue you’ve ever seen.  You have to wear sunglasses, as the light here in Greece is blindingly bright, and that’s even before it hits the white stone buildings.  If you are wondering about the weather in Oia, then just take a look at www.chelidonia.com and click on the webcam.  Today will be clear and 20 degrees – in my book, this is absolutely perfect, and I will spend it just where it deserves – on my balconies at Skiza and House Paris.  Should you ever make your way to Santorini, please make sure you stay at Chelidonia, and tell Erika I sent you.

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The Turks and the Greeks

 
 
 

25 March 2010

 

Military plane flies into the caldera

Today is a national holiday in Greece, for two reasons.  First, it’s the celebration of the announcement of the birth of Christ to Mary.  Second, it’s the anniversary of the start of the Greek War of Independence, which ultimately ended 400 years of Ottoman occupation in Greece, and resulted in Greek independence in 1821, and it serves as the Greek equivalent of a combined Anzac Day / Independence Day, when the country’s war heroes are honoured.

It’s fair to say that there continues to be little love lost between the Greeks and the Turks, and conflicts since then include the Balkan Wars nearly a century ago, where Greece seized prizes like Crete and parts of Northern Greece.  Rose was not surprised that the Aussies were mauled by the Turks when I told him about the origins of Anzac Day, even though I quietly confessed that it was kinda more the fault of the British military that so many Aussies went down.  But of course Greece isn’t Turkey’s only target – Rose and Erika talked of the attempted annihilation of the Armenians by the Turks, the world’s apparent indifference to which gave encouragement for Hitler to believe that no-one would react to his terrible plans.

It wasn’t all one way, of course – the Greeks variously occupied parts of what is now the modern state of Turkey, seized after WWI, and surrendered after the Greco-Turkish war which also resulted in an enormous population transfer of around 2 million Christians and Muslims between the two states.  Since then, the countries have variously swayed between determined diplomacy and peace and, frankly, flipping each other the bird.

Of course there’s the issue of Cyprus – where the vast majority of the population is Greek and wanted to join up with the mother ship.  Naturally, Turkey’s head exploded at the suggestion and the problem was resolved with Cyprus becoming independent.  However, that doesn’t mean all the territories are sorted, and there remain all sorts of disputes about who owns which bits of waterand air in the Aegean, where the dispute exists as to how far territorial waters actually stretch, with both sides claiming rights to numerous stretches. 

Greece’s problems no doubt arise because it sits neatly in a highly strategic location, on the border between Europe, Asia and Africa, and the Greeks grew pretty tired over the years of being occupied by all and sundry.  Mind you, they have an amazing fighting spirit: Greek resistance in Crete was famously fierce and ultimately drove the Nazis out.  One of Greece’s other national days (and, apart from Easter, my personal favourite) is “Ochi Day” on 28 October.  Literally “No Day”, it is the celebration of the moment in 1940 when Mussolini decided he would like to take up certain strategic locations in Greece and, on making a “request” to Metaxas, the loathed Greek dictator, for access,  was told to get stuffed, reputedly with a single word: “Ochi” (“No”), and the rest is history: Italy invaded, Greeks took to the streets chanting “Ochi!” and Greece became part of WWII.  Metaxas, by the way, transformed from hated to hero.

On the Turkish conflict, I thought things had mostly sorted themselves out between the two countries, as relations seemed OK although there are a lot of strong residual feelings and, let’s face it, they’ll never be the best of friends.  In the last couple of days, I’ve had a few interesting encounters with the continued animosity between them.  It started when I was sitting in Skiza when we heard a huge noise, and overhead a military plane came across the top of the cafe, banking left before entertaining us with a dramatic swoop around the caldera.  Everyone stood up and of course I reached for my iPhone and took the above picture (the day was less gloomy than this looks, by the way!).  

That afternoon, I asked Erika if she had seen the plane, and yes she had.  She told me that, for the last few days, probably because of today’s celebration, there had been Turkish ships sitting to the East of Santorini and maybe the plane was keeping an eye on them.  After some sniffing, I found this story in yesterday’s edition of Greece’s English language newspaper, Kathimerini, confirming the drama, and that Greece’s Foreign Minister is asking the EU to tell Turkey to stop being naughty boys by continuing to violate Greece’s airspace with fighter jets and boats, and threatening the Greek coast guard with Turkish F16’s: http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_100006_24/03/2010_115870

Santorini dog fight

She then related the time about 4 years ago that she was hanging out some washing and heard an enormous BOOM.  Her brother phoned her from Austria to tell her to turn on the TV where she saw a story about how a Turkish military plane near Rhodes (Rhodes is, as you know, a Greek Island very close to Turkey) had encountered Greek planes and the Turkish plane, in a mock dog-fight, had forced the Greek plane down and the Greek pilot was killed.   I think they worked this out diplomatically but…ummm…not good.  Here’s the Times story: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article724196.ece

That same afternoon, I was talking to a real estate agent in Fira who was a bit of a macro economic Greek-Canadian dude (so thankfully spoke perfect English) and he was theorising about what could happen with Greece’s economy.  As part of this ramble, he remarked: “There shouldn’t be a war with Turkey”.  Hmmm

Later in the conversation, when I was asking how a foreigner could buy property in Greece, he explained that most places presented no problem but Santorini, as a military base and a strategic position, means a foreigner needs to get approval from the Ministry of Defence! 

Suddenly, all Rose’s comments about the cache of arms being stored on the island, and the arrangement that, once released from the army, men must keep a gun at hand in their homes in case they are called, all started making more sense.  And here we are, all us tourists, obliviously wandering around, snapping shots and enjoying the tzatziki.

So, tension continues between the countries and I guess it’s a matter of “watch this space”.

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Greek goodies

My life-changing Bougatsa at Skiza. This is a "pie" with filo pastry, custard and syrup, covered in icing sugar and cinnamon. Mmmm.

Ok, I’ve felt the pressure and succumbed.  Not the least of which was from my good friend Kim, who has been at me to showcase the yummy Greek sweets on offer (she also taught me everything I know about blogging, by the way).  I guess this means I’m taking requests now, so if there’s anything you want to know about my destinations please just leave a comment, and of course I’ll have little food features from time to time.  Hey, I’m nothing if not responsive.

First, like the bakery guy, I have to mention that there is not yet the dazzling array of sweets that are usually available (next week will be better) but I have done my level best.

Mille Feuille from the Oia bakery. Think layers of light whipped cream between crisp flaky pastry. Not traditionally Greek, but the bakery often has a "special" and this was it one day.

Second, it’s important that you know that Greeks have a seriously sweet tooth so, like many countries in the Mediterranean, offer goodies worthy of writing home about.  You’ll probably be surprised to know that one of the Greek biscuits you most often think about (the yummy curved almond biscuit covered in icing sugar – the Kourambiedes) is not as prolific here as it is in Australia.  Baklava, on the other hand, is absolutely everywhere, in an assortment of different shapes, sizes and contents.  From what I can tell, Greeks don’t generally get stuck into their sweets after a heavy meal (unless it’s a small baklava or yoghurt with honey) and rather devour them with their coffee, which they often also drink sweet! 

Yiorgos from Skiza proudly presents: the First Galaktoboureko of the Season! (This looks the same inside as the bougatsa above)

Many sweets are regional (my mother has been begging me for the very same biscuits that I brought home in 2007 from the island of Spetses but, alas, they are only made there), and some are reserved for celebrations like Easter and Christmas.  (Yes, yes, I’ll be doing an Easter post so you can all check out the sweet Easter bread and roast lamb…)

Spoon sweet. I think this one is a chestnut

One yummy thing that we almost never see at home are “spoon sweets”, which are fruit like grapes or even nuts cooked in a syrup until they’re soft.  They are often just served straight (and are kept for hospitality in Greek households to offer to guests) but my best encounters with them are on top of ice cream or yogurt.  If you are curious, you can find these in places that stock Greek goodies, plus I have some in my pantry so feel free to nag me for a sample when I get back.

Another bakery special. Little sponge sandwiches, with cream centres and chocolate tops!

In the meantime, I have done my best to produce some photos of what’s on offer right now.  This includes personally begging the sensational cook at Skiza to make my galaktoboureko and the bougatsa, even though there are almost no tourists in sight and now feel I have to order a slice each day in order to justify my requests (you will, of course, appreciate that I have done this is for research purposes only).

So, I present to you:  Sweet Greek moments!

The bakery offers about 5 different types of baklava, all soaking up their syrupy goodness

Enjoy!

The bakery's wall is lined with baskets of biscuits in various shapes, sizes and flavours

Lots and lots of cookies at the bakery (I can't comment on their yumminess as I don't go for them)

After the fact

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The Road Not Taken

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by.”
– Robert Frost

One of the nifty devices that I have brought with me is an Amazon Kindle – the E-book reader.  Of course it was simply impossible to haul 5 months worth of books with me (and usually not possible to buy what I wanted cheaply along the way), so got with the new millenium and ordered one (too early, alas, for the Apple iPad, although as sexy as it is, it seems a little big for a book substitute).

This morning in Skiza, having finished my first e-book ever (a pretty good experience, I must say) and inspired by the view, I had a hankering for some poetry (maybe it’s that image of poetry being something you read while luxuriating in a field of flowers).  Within seconds I had downloaded an anthology of poetry onto my Kindle (seriously, this is how it works).  And, it having been years since I read any poetry beyond a few lines, a favourite poem, or for my English Lit degree (when I kinda resented doing it), I began reading.

Unlike when I was studying, it occurs to me now that poetry is much like travel: it is best experienced from within.  Sure you can carve it up line by line and examine it under a microscope if that’s what you really want, or like the cruise ship snappers, snatch a line or two to suit and make you feel a bit high brow (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone).  However – and this is the thing about it – great poetry has the capacity to change us.   Like all sorts of other magical things I never had time for before, it seemed fitting to get carried away on some now.

The Ancient Greeks were somewhat divided on the whole notion of poetry.  Plato banned it, figuring it was a little too subversive for his liking.  This was reasonably controversial at the time, since Homer was pretty much a rock star in ancient Greece, and Plato was pitting himself against the status quo.  Maybe he didn’t like the competition: in Republic, he regarded philosophy and poetry as “quarrelling” – competing sources of knowledge and understanding.  But there was little doubt that Plato understood this: poetry had the capacity to affect people deeply.

Aristotle, on the other hand, was a fair bit more sympathetic and figured that poetry and philosophy really could work hand in hand.  He knew they could reveal deep features of human ‘actions and life’.  All at once, the poetic experience is about both the mind and the emotions.

A few of the poems in the book have caught my imagination, but there was one in particular I kept coming back to.  All of you have probably heard the line “I took the road less travelled” or some other variation of it from Robert Frost.  But have you read the entire poem?  And did you know that the actual name of the poem is “The Road Not Taken” – quite the opposite side of the coin to the oft-used quote; it’s just as much about the way we did not tread.  And, somehow, most people who snatch this quote leave out the poem’s last line completely.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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My Skiza

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

– Henry Miller

 

Monday 15 March

Signs of life

When you visit Oia, the one place I am certain to tell you to visit is my cafe and patisserie, Skiza.  Located on the main street, just along from the top of my stairs, it is one of my secret places in Oia.  The food is good (with the exception of the bougatsa, a warm semolina, custard and filo pasty sweet, which is downright sensational) and the prices are a little higher than elsewhere (of course because of the view).  The service is friendly, and locals pause for a while at inside tables to yell, sipping on their Greek coffees and blowing smoke while Latin music bounces from the speakers.  I am always welcomed back and, no matter how long I stay, I am never rushed away. 

But none of these is the reason I come. 

Skiza possesses two balconies of such marvellous beauty that you will be transported to another place.  I settle at the table on the far right of the bottom balcony and, somehow, hours pass while I barely realise it.  The deepest of all relaxation washes over me: Skiza is a familiar embrace and, without even trying, I find my mind empty, the whirr of real life stilled for as long as I can sit here.

“Skiza” means burnt wood, and is an old Greek word for baked bread rusks.  However, I read somewhere that, in Swahili, Skiza means “listen”, and it’s this that seems most right to me.

Gazillion dollar view (equivalent to 0.6 Gazillion Euros)

During the tourist season, cruise ship passengers pile into Skiza for their coffees and their photos, only to head straight to their next destination, unchanged.  They are ghosts who never pause to hear, to feel, the true heartbeat of a place, even though they hold up their photos and claim “I was there”.  Like a hand, pulled out of water, they never were.

Once, on the top balcony, I eavesdropped on a nearby table full of cruise ship staff.  Most of them sat mesmerised by the view but one, a New Zealander, simply took a glance and promptly dismissed it: “It’s not as big as Lake Taupo” before he rolled his eyes at the menu for spelling “espresso” with an “x”.  Too impressive to be impressed, I suppose.

Locals. The Nic Cave lookalike works here and, sorry MJ, the one on the right has a wedding ring.

In late October 2008, as I travelled through Greece, tales of financial panic unfolded.  The Dow skidded thousands of points before Wall Street suits headed home, wondering what had happened.  On my second last day in Oia, two Dutchmen took their coffee in Skiza, and we began to talk.  When I told them who I worked for, their eyebrows raised, “Oh no”, they said, “just yesterday they have announced they borrowed E10 billion from the Dutch government.”  Suddenly, the unfolding GFC had spat in my back yard: what might this mean for us in Australia, I wondered.   Of course, less than 12 months later it became apparent: they sold us, I was unnecessary, and here I am again, the circle of life wonderfully complete.

When Erika kindly invited me to return for March, she made sure I understood most places were closed, but assured me the supermarkets and bakery were open.  All I could wonder was “But is Skiza?”  You see, for me no visit here is complete without Skiza, and the truly fulfilled feeling from my hours spent on that balcony, listening.  While other shops have slowly woken from winter, it is really Skiza I have waited for.  Since my arrival, I have wandered past and squinted into the doorway; from my house I have peered up at the balcony to see the increasing activity.  An open door, men sitting inside; a man painting.  Yesterday, the balcony doors opened briefly.  I quivered with excitement.  Today, on my way back from the bakery, the best sign yet: deliveries piled outside the front door.  And, a little later, the balcony doors flung open and chairs and tables appeared, at last.

Another view from my Skiza balcony spot

I tried to phone them on Skype: “Paragalo,” he said “Hello, can you hear me”, I asked, again “Paragolo”.  The line went dead.  Clearly not.

I headed upstairs and, sure enough, the door was open, a waiter inside, cakes on offer.  Alas, two Greek men sat inside; I cannot claim to be their first customer of the season.   And the set-up is a little different: instead of square tables at the balcony, they are round.  Not to worry.  I swivel around and perch myself in my usual spot, arm on the railing, foot on the marble edge, complete. 

Fresh OJ and a Greek coffee (don't drink the sludge)

I order Greek coffee and orange juice and then, hours later, some pasta.  There is no sign of the bougatsa, made fresh downstairs by a local lady, so I ask if it can be made soon.  The Manager remembers me – it is too quiet now, but maybe there will be some next week.  Meanwhile, Skiza continues to complete itself: the cash register is brought in, followed by fire extinguishers, dusted off from last year.

From my seat, the volcano top peers out of the water, hugged by almost the entire curve of the island.  To my right, down below, House Paris sits ready to take me back when my tryst with Skiza is done for the day. 

It occurs to me that this time – between Skiza opening and the arrival of that first cruise ship – is perfection, just as it was after the last ship had sailed at the end of 2008.  But no matter who else is here, Skiza belongs to me.  It’s in this place, wasting hours on a balcony in the sun, that I feel most myself: my mind turns to dreams of a different life.

The rocky water’s edge below transitions from aqua to turquoise to deep blue, the breeze and the tides tracing shadowy patterns upon it, and the surface glimmers like a million diamonds in the light.  The sun warms my legs, birds soar above and, at last, I am home.

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