“Where’s the guy selling ouzo?” – Jan, Nairobi
Thursday 11 March
What a magnificent day! Spring is finally piercing through the winter clouds, and much of the day deserves to be spent on my deck chair, warming up and gawking at the view (I am able to successfully do this for hours on end; I let my brain go numb and just absorb the extraordinary beauty). I arrive back from my morning trek to the bakery to find my brother calling on Skype. I down the spanakopita as I chat to him; I hold a piece up to the webcam, offering it to him, and we laugh that it’s like we’re having breakfast together. Part way through the video call, I realise his fiancee is in the background, out of view of the webcam, unannounced. I feel oddly eavesdropped upon.
Familiar sounds start up – the ring of the donkey bells as they clunk up and down doing their deliveries, their handler calling commands “heyyyyyyy”, “yerrrrreeee” (whatever that means). The birds and, yes, even the cement mixer kicking off again.
At some point before 20 March, I know I need to finish that Company Directors assignment (yes, I know – I had planned to do it well before now, but blogging has been more technically challenging, and I have been lazier, than originally anticipated). Instead, I finish Persepolis, that book I told you about: the comic about the young girl growing up in Iran just as the Islamic Revolution kicked in. What a read! It gives me a lot of comfort going into Iran, as it seemed so human and heart-felt. It’s been a while since I’ve read a comic (although my friend Andrew produces a few sensational comic-style adventures involving my favourite character, a cockatoo named Herman) and this really read like a novel, the pictures being warm and funny and often very sad. Nonetheless, a random text arrives from my mother: “Avoid Iran”.
I must say that the day whiled away pretty nicely; it must have, as I can’t recall most of it. Anna-Marie and Jan had decided to make their way from Firostefani to Oia to see its famous sunset, arriving on the 4.20pm bus.
We wandered around, and they took multiple award-winning shots of Oia (mind you, it’s a bit like photographing Keanu Reeves – you have to work pretty hard to screw it up). Just in front of the main church, we run into Taki. “Hello!” He is with a friend and as we greet him, his friend asks “Do you know these people?” Huh? Um, doesn’t it seem like it? Anna-Marie and I laugh as we head in the opposite direction.
We pass one of the cafes with a glorious view (although not my favourite one), busy preparing, and I call out to the owner “when are you opening?” “One Week” – hurrah!! In fact, each day I am here, more and more shops open – it’s like a butterfly breaking out of its cocoon.
We wander to an early dinner (Anna-Marie had been starving Jan, or so Jan claims, and wouldn’t allow her out to lunch insisting she finish the eggs, feta cheese, bread and spanakopita in their hotel. For my own safety, I elect not to buy into this dispute). We order taramosalata, more fried cheese (this one has crispy bits and – HEY it’s part of the “Mediterranean diet”, isn’t it?) and big white beans in tomato sauce, and I order a moussaka for main. The moussaka is dryer than we are used to, and it is layered with potato, eggplant, a finely ground but tasty beef, and topped with béchamel sauce. Our meal costs E48 for all of us, and our host tops it all off with a gorgeous blueberry liqueur.
Apart from being the most magical spot on a magical island, Oia is famous for its sunsets. During summer, the narrow streets fill up with tourists, who bus in just for the sunset, and then perch on steps, in cafes, and on Oia’s ruined castle, waiting for the magic moment before they wander off. You can see the sun hit the water here, and get a clear view of the magnificent red and brown reflections of the end of the day if you are patient enough to wait instead of dashing off, photos taken.
At 5.45pm, we head to the sunset, as the wind picks up around us…the nights here are cool, and this one was VERY cool. However, our resolve is to take award-winning shots, and that we do. Like the opening of the shops, each sunset gets busier with tourists as we head to the start of the season.
Dusk in Oia has magic of its own. The last time I was here, I was with my friend Margaret. Every day before sunset, she’d head up the stairs, and I’d lazily remain on the balcony or in the cave house. One night, I went up with her, and found the village shrouded in a silent beauty in the dwindling light, day delicately holding on as night took hold. I realised why Margaret had been coming up here all those nights, and we laughed. From then on, I try not to miss out on it. Even full-blown night-time, as you head down the steps, presents its own story-book magic. The lights on the cascading white houses cast reflections across the bay as silence descends. The night sky is full of twinkling stars, and it feels like you’re walking in a place dreamed up by someone; it surely can’t be real.
“Where’s the guy selling ouzo? I need some ouzo before I go” Jan keeps repeating; she is leaving tomorrow and she is incredulous that you wouldn’t set up an ouzo stand at the Oia sunset to make the whole thing just that little bit more marvellous.
We stand there, cameras firing, and soon the sky lights up a magnificent red and there’s the scramble to take the shots (I force myself to stop and LOOK, LOOK, SEE the thing). We head back to check out some of the shops, and half-way up, we turn. The rich red has intensified, and I fire off one or two more shots for good measure (see the first photo of this post).
Jan has credit card and is ready to go – we head into a shop, and all of us do our bit for the economy. I buy a painted tile with swallows on it. Why? Because I stay in Chelidonia Villas in Chelidonia Bay. “Chelodonia” means “where swallows meet”; I wait for the swallows still, it’s spring after all and they should be on their way. The owner of the store directs us to Polski Lokal, one of the few places open – a Polish place serving schnitzel, souvlaki and, most critically tonight, ouzo. We order three and out he brings three…little bottles! Enough for a few Greek men! We send two back; I pour the ouzo and we dilute it with water (the proper way to drink it: if you are drinking it straight, Lord help you).
Jan and Anna-Marie’s bus is leaving soon, and Jan takes the 8.30am flight back to Athens, then home to Nairobi via Cairo. She talks about her car service on the other end, and mentions bandits…and she doesn’t mean the car service. They live in a different world – Jan in Kenya, and Anna-Marie in Uganda. They have come to Santorini to work on a report together on the benefits of orange sweet potatoes in African communities to deliver better nutritional outcomes via diet. What fascinating lives they lead. Sydney feels mediocre by comparison. And, hey, I love their style – if they have to travel to collaborate, then why not BOTH head to somewhere spectacular?
We say our good-byes, and I head back downstairs, to the warmth of my gorgeous cave house. Shortly after I slide into bed, this note is slipped through my door.
Another strike! I get up and take advantage of the hot water to shower and wash my clothes now, and plug all my applicances in to charge. Sleep is disrupted: everyone seems to want to call or text me tonight. What does it matter? I have no work tomorrow.