It was in Faros one night that I watched a man about to drive away on a motorcycle with a goat on top. At least that was his plan. But the goat had other ideas and no one was going anywhere soon. The harder the man fought to keep the animal where he meant it to be, across the seat in front of him, on its back with its feet in the air, the harder the goat struggled to break free. How the situation resolved itself, I didn’t see. I thought it rude of me to stand right there and stare, so I went on my way.
You could spend days watching the kinds of things Sifnians pile onto motorbikes. I know. I have. There must surely be regulations about how much you’re allowed to put atop two wheels, but regulations or not, the rule of thumb here seems to be if you can somehow make it fit, it goes. I’ve seen whole families crammed up there. Farmers almost hidden in a pile of hay with tools of all sorts sticking out. A pair of wooden dining chairs once. Lengths of plastic pipe on another occasion, longer than the motorbike itself. A dog behind the driver, erect on all fours, its ears aflap in the breeze. Lambs innocent of the fact that they’re about to feature in a meal somewhere. And of course, those painted boxes bolted on the back, the ones that carry take-out food for delivery. I once saw a man barely slow down while handing over a plastic bag to two people already seated, ready and waiting to dine at a table in front of their house.
The zone in front of the driver is a particularly well-used one. It’s where that goat was meant to be. Where little children, as soon as they can sit up, are kept safe. Where I once saw a small tot, dressed up for a party, jammed in there between an enormous gift-wrapped box and her mother.
On a Greek isle like this where the distances are short and the weather is mild, motorcycles are practical vehicles for so many purposes. I doubt that anyone who lives here gives this kind of thing a second look. But to visitors like me from more northern climes, places where the weather for so much of the year forces us to close ourselves in, scenes like this are novelties. They tickle whatever sense of humour we’ve brought along. I’d love to photograph them, I’ve often thought, but this proves almost impossible because as soon as you see them – Whoosh! – they’ve roared off.
Once though, in To Steno, Apollonia’s main alley, we encountered a motorcycle that was not yet quite ready to take off. Its driver, a middle-aged man, was already in place. What goods he had on his half of the bike, I’ve forgotten, but he was well occupied with keeping them aboard. His wife, seated behind him, was holding a large potted plant in one hand. On the other was balanced a restaurant-sized pan, the kind you’d use to prepare moussaka or pastitsio, enough for a crowd. There remained a tall electric fan on the flagstones beside them, the kind that sits atop a base and then a long pole, one meant to cool a whole room, and they clearly meant to take it along. Do you need help, my husband asked. Well yes, efharistó, and soon the appliance was teetering on that skinny pole across the seat between the two of them. Good enough, and off they went.
My camera that day, sadly, I’d forgotten to bring along.