Book Launch: Sifnos Chronicles 2

P1140646It was a sunny July afternoon at Cusina Mediterranean Bistro in Guelph, Ontario, inside as well as out. There was Greek food, Greek wines, the warm hospitality that restaurant is famous for, and the Canadian launch of my second book, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. Plus Greek olive oils too. When I’m at home and can’t stand for another minute not being in Greece, Cusina is always where I head. So when Maria Kiriakopoulos-Kalantzis, one of its owners, asked if I would like to launch my new book there and to help celebrate the Bistro’s 8th anniversary, well, I was thrilled.

I love all things Greek. One of its Cycladic islands, Sifnos, has come to feel like a second home to my husband and me and inspired me to write these two books. So to be at Cusina that day, with an audience as large as that one, one that was anxious to hear me read aloud more of my stories from Sifnos, it’s a treat. An audience that contained many who’d read my first book and had been telling me for a while they couldn’t wait for the second. 

“I got teary-eyed as you read,” one person told me later. “I felt like I was back on the island. Oh wait, I thought then,” she went on. “I haven’t actually been to the island. It’s just that your books make me feel I’m right there.”

I’m so grateful to Maria at Cusina. To Sumon, her business partner and chef who, though he’s not Greek, cooks as if he were. To Dora Tsiagas, owner of Dora’s Greek Tours and of Tithorea, a lovely Greek food shop in nearby Rockwood, for educating us about Greek olive oils and so much more. And to everyone who came out. It was an honour to have you there to help me send this book off into the world.

 

What follows is one of the excerpts I read that afternoon. It concerns Nikolaos, a waiter that my husband, Jim, and I were coming to know in the month we stayed on Sifnos that year:

 “Thío kafédes ellínikos, métrios,” Jim says. We’ll have two Greek coffees, please. Medium sweet. He leans back. 

“Oh god!” our waiter cries. He throws both arms in the air, then slaps his thighs. “Now I have to make coffees! Again.”

Oh, yes. I’ve been expecting something like this, waiting for it. Would have been disappointed had it failed to appear. Jim, too, has been itching for this moment the whole meal. And I can tell that Nikolaos was as well, for it’s with a bit of a kick that he promptly turns tail and disappears inside.

The latest bit of fun between these two began yesterday morning, out of the most ordinary of circumstances, as it usually does. I’d been wandering around the village with my camera and when I decided I’d finished, I met Jim on Antonis’s terrace. Shortly afterwards Nikolaos arrived for work. He had with him a large paper bag filled with the taverna’s loaves of bread for the day.

“Where do you get your bread?” I asked when he’d unlocked the door and stowed it inside. I like their bread and have been mildly curious where they have to go for it because as far as I know there is no bakery in Xeronissos or anywhere nearby.

“We don’t,” he said, “give out our… se-crrets.” With that, he raised his nose into the air and there it stayed the whole way to his car and back again, this time with a large pan of baklavá.

Okay, Nikolaos. You win. 

For now.

“Could we have coffees?” one of us asked. Antonis always offers them at this time of the morning and the habit of having one has become a part of our day. But he hadn’t arrived yet.

Nikolaos said nothing. He didn’t, I realized later, even ask what kind we wanted. I recall, though, that he was inside for what felt a very long time. Eventually he returned and, with a small shrug, set two ceramic mugs before us. “I’ve never made coffee before,” he said.

He hadn’t?

Well no, he hadn’t. That soon was clear.

Every café and taverna has a blender for making frappés, those whipped coffee and ice and sometimes milk concoctions, and whip our coffees Nikolaos had. Though frappé comes in a glass, not the kind of mug he served these coffees in. I lifted mine and tilted it, as one does, but found no liquid in there. What touched my lips instead was a stiff foam, mostly air, and so I slurped. On the next go, I slurped again. And again. How often this was repeated, I can’t really say, but I do know it was only near the cup’s bottom that I finally found a mouthful of liquid. Darkish. Not iced. But a long way from hot. 

Jim’s looked much the same and it was about then, I know now, that the plot began to be hatched. “Okay,” he said later as we stepped onto the beach and out of earshot, “If Nikolaos is alone, we’ll order coffees. Always. Whether we need them or not.”

Agreed.

Photos by Jim Blomfield and Montaha Hidefi

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new this spring, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon. She will plan an event to launch this book from Greece the next time she is there.

The Dance

P1100703I was on the dock in Kamares that day, a few minutes before the ferry was due to arrive. Not, thank goodness, because it was time for me to leave Sifnos. Not yet. I hadn’t come either to meet arriving friends or to see them depart. Nor with my camera, as I’d done so many times before, attempting to capture in one image the goings-on in those few minutes when a boat is in port. 

No, it was for something new I’d come that day. For the first time ever, I was there to pick up packages from the ferry. There was something on board for me. 

It is so easy for visitors like me to think that we’re the reason these boats are there, to bring us to our vacations on our beloved Greek isles. But their real purpose for existing is a much more vital one than that. They quite literally are a lifeline for people who live full-time on the islands, taking them to and from the rest of the world and bringing in every single good modern life demands that isn’t produced there. The highways of the Aegean, I call them, and they carry everything from pencils and paper clips, newspapers and chewing gum to huge lumbering trucks with, say, a pile of telephone poles lashed to them. So, waiting for my own delivery that day, I felt … well, almost Sifnian myself. 

And excited. I was practically dancing about. If all was going according to plan, somewhere in the bowels of that boat there were three boxes with my name on them. Inside would be a hundred-plus copies of my new book, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales, from the printer’s in Athens, bound for the shelves at To Bibliopoleio, The Bookshop in Apollonia. When I say this book was new, what I mean is that I hadn’t even seen an actual finished copy of it yet. And today I would. If all was going according to plan.

There’s one way to make an author run out of words. Put a copy of her book into her hands that first time and she’ll be practically speechless. I’d experienced that once about three years before with The Sifnos Chronicles, my first book set on this island, and that moment was almost upon me again. All of the work, the hours, the months, the years, all bound up inside a beautiful cover. The joy. The relief. The trepidation that hits then about how these words are going to be received. Unlike with my first book, though, this time that momentous occasion was going to happen right here. On the island. Mere feet from where some of the events that became my chapters took place. Perhaps even in sight of some of the people on the book’s pages. Here on this island I find so magical that it turned me into an author.  

The way I’d planned it originally, I’d have finished Sifnos Chronicles 2 a while ago now, before I’d left Canada about three weeks before. Copies would already be here when I arrived, I’d thought, waiting for me. But this book had a mind of its own. It had decided that it was not going come to Sifnos until I was there to greet it. To escort it to The Bookshop myself. To bring a copy of it to some of the people in the story. To look into their eyes and to see for myself their reactions. And, really, what author could conjure up a better scenario than that?

If you’ve ever been a passenger on a Greek ferry boat, you’ll know what I mean when I talk about the cacophony in those moments after it’s landed. Whistles blow, people shout, engines rev, roar and rattle. Passengers, whether arriving or departing, pick their way upstream as though swimming through a torrent. To those experiencing it for the first time, it looks and feels like pure chaos. But when you’ve watched as often I have, you’ll know that actually it’s quite the opposite. There’s a marvel of purpose and organization underneath all that. It’s like a symphony, really, perfectly timed, exquisitely played. Or a ballet. Everyone, except for the newcomers, knows where they’re going and why and in a very few minutes after a boat has landed, properly unloaded and reloaded, it’s steaming away. It’s not for nothing that Greeks are famed for their prowess at shipping.

So on that day, the Speedrunner III appeared in the bay and was soon tied to the dock. I was rushing toward it, practically skipping I think, when I met Maria, owner of The Bookshop. I hadn’t seen her go on board but already she was carrying off the first box of my books. She’d handle all that, she’d said the day before, finding the boxes, lifting them, getting them where they were meant to be. She’d known better than to leave all that to me. That Sifnian I am not. Not yet.

 

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new this spring, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.

 

Wildflowers This Spring: Oh My!

It rained and it rained and it rained all over Greece last winter and on Sifnos even the elderly said that in their entire lifetimes, they couldn’t remember a year like. Fortunately, without knowing any of that, my husband and I decided last fall that this year we’d come at early spring, would arrive a week or so before Easter and would stay until mid-May. The height of wildflower season.

As someone who first got to know Sifnos in September, when the prevailing colour of the land is brown and when the few plants that remain are fried to a crisp by the heat of the summer sun, spring here always astonishes me. But never so much as this year. The first thing I noticed was that the island was green, greener than I’d ever seen before. The second was that wildflowers were everywhere. Pushing through cracks in concrete. Spilling from stone walls. Flourishing in every patch of open ground in every corner of the island they could find. Some were tall and showy. Others were tiny, barely the size of the head of a pin, and would reveal themselves only to those who’d take the time to look closely. Many were species I’d never seen before.

A day or so after we arrived, we were driving along and as I looked down where I always do at a small church in the fields, I gasped. The church was nestled deep in a soft pillow of daisies. The flowers were so prolific and grew so tall that one woman told me her little dog was afraid to go into the garden because the plants were three times as tall as he and he thought he was entering a jungle. Poor thing. In his memory, there’s not been a year like that either.

So there was nothing to do but for my camera and I to get busy. And over the next month, very busy we were, happily. Here is just a handful of the scenes that made me go Wow! Permit me to share them with you. You can find many more on my Facebook page.

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new this spring, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos and on Amazon.

 

Now in Sifnos: My New Sifnos Book

KamaresWell, it is finally here. In Sifnos. At To Bibliopoleio, the Book Shop in Apollonia. My new book, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales, has arrived.

How exciting it is for me to have my book arrive in what I consider its proper home. I look forward to having an opportunity to read it aloud sometime to a willing audience in Sifnos, almost within in view of where some of its episodes occurred. I did the same thing with my first book, The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, several years ago and it was one of the most special nights of my life.

I love Sifnos, come here with my husband for a month now every year, and in some ways feel more at home on this island than I do even in Canada where I have lived my whole life. The new book tells the story of one of those returns, a time we’d decided to immerse ourselves in the life of a traditional small fishing village. The following excerpt, however, takes place in Kamares on the way to the ferry dock.

“… the shops in Kamares have some of the most heavenly gelato on earth. We’ve earned it, we decided, and we’re strolling along the main street and savouring our treats when a man asks, “Is that homemade?”

“It is,” Jim replies. 

We’ve both been watching this man for a bit. He’s hard to miss. Not because he’s lumbering along under a huge backpack, clearly a departing passenger. Nor because he’s hindered further by what seems a gimpy knee. It’s because he’s been walking in the middle of the road, all over it actually, and has no idea that there’s a growing stream of cars, people and trucks backed up behind him on this narrow thoroughfare and that he’s forced them to stop now while he ogles our ice creams.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

Yes, this gelato is definitely homemade. We show him the café where we bought it. They have plenty more, we tell him. Tiramisu, one of Jim’s favourites and his choice today. Black chocolate. Something called banoffee. Mango sorbet. Many more.

“They just say that, you know,” the man says. “They take powder and mix it up.”

They? Who is it he thinks would cut corners like that? No Sifnian of my acquaintance. Not the man who sold us these, who once insisted on calling the friend who makes his apple sorbetto to be 100% certain it was dairy-free. “Nope,” I say, adding as punctuation a vigorous lick of my strawberry sorbet, “this one is homemade.”

“They have Ben and Jerry’s in Apollonia, you know.”

Oh, good grief. I don’t come to Greece to eat American ice cream, I’m about to say but Jim jumps in first. “That’s why I bought this,” he says. Lick.

“… Okay, then,” the man says and he shuffles off boatward. 

How long he’s been here, I have no idea, but certainly not long enough if he’s leaving still fearing that Sifnians are out to rip him off.”

If you’re lucky enough to be in Sifnos and Apollonia, its main town, do drop by To Bibliopoleio on the main square. There you’ll find many books about Sifnos. I’m far from the only writer who finds it a fascinating place.

And if you can’t get to Sifnos, you can always find both my books on Amazon.

And on my blog, you can read about that night in Apollonia when in the moonlight, I read aloud from The Sifnos Chronicles.

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new this spring, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.

 

Available Now: New Sifnos Book

Piraeus 2I am delighted to announce that my new book, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales, is available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions. It is the story of two Canadian travellers who return to an island they love,  immerse themselves for a month in a traditional fishing village and savour the rhythms of life there. Think of it as a sequel to my first book, The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle.

You can read an excerpt from the new book below. It’s an episode that occurs before we even arrive on the island. I hope you can sense how happy I am in tto be almost there.

From Chapter 3: “We’d arrived at the dock in Piraeus with plenty of time before our boat was scheduled to depart. The air was fresh, the sun shone and spring was here. We’d found seats on the boat’s outside rear deck, for the time being at least. I was excited. Jim was too, though in matters such as this, he is less demonstrative than I.

I love the docks in Piraeus, the busy seaport of Athens, have since my first glimpse of them and the first moments I spent there. Those huge ships gliding so smoothly in and out of their berths. Their names, so exotic-sounding to my ears: Hellenic Sea Lines, Blue Star Ferries, Ventouris, Nel Lines, Minoan. The correct way to travel around these islands is by boat, I once heard someone say, the way it’s been done as long as people have moved between them, and I’ve come to agree. Besides, to get to Sifnos which has no airport, it’s still pretty much the only way.

No Speedrunner, no Superfast Ferries or Flying Cats for us that day. We were going by slow ferry, the Adamantios Korais. Why rush to get to the island, Jim and I thought. Why not savour the voyage across these ancient seas. And why not, after a long winter at home, choose a vessel where you can comfortably stay on an outside deck for as long as you like.

The slow boats are the big ones that, in addition to carrying passengers and their luggage and other belongings, take along trucks loaded with goods that aren’t produced on the islands. Once, I even saw a long trailer back on board with a huge pile of telephone poles lashed to it.

I stood at the rail, watching those in charge load the ferry. Cars and motorcycles were being waved in and, trucks of all shapes and sizes. Everything from sputtering putt-putts to huge semi-trailers that must dwarf the island roads. That day, I saw something new, a hearse waiting to come aboard. Two in fact, one grey and the other black, each with its sad family walking alongside, its arrays of stiff flowers, and, this being Greece, its requisite bearded priest. Both were bound for Kythnos, I learned when they each got off there, the first stop on the voyage, about halfway to our destination.

I also kept my eye on the koulouri table. On the dock beside every boat in Piraeus in the hour before it is scheduled to leave, there appears a table piled high with stacks of sesame-seed-covered wreaths of bread. Koulouria, they’re called in the plural; they’re delicious and at one Euro, they go fast. What I like best, besides eating them, is to watch from the deck high above as the seller, in between collecting the coins and putting passengers’ purchases into clear blue plastic bags, deftly arranges, rearranges and re-rearranges his dwindling stock into increasingly sparse though admirably geometric displays. Today’s vendor was doing his part. …”

Find Sifnos Chronicles 2  on Amazon.

Rites of Springtime in Sifnos

Almost every time in the past two or so weeks that I’ve gone to Facebook, I’ve seen there another photograph of a group of Sifnians busily cleaning their island. From the south to the north, from families, groups of friends to whole kindergarten classes, they’ve been scouring the beaches, the roadsides and the trails gathering bits of trash the winter left behind.

And now as I write this, it’s the last week before the celebrations of Easter will begin and, as I’ve been there before at this time of year, I need no new photographs to tell me what’s going on right now. The paintbrushes are out and every house, every church, every town building, every wall is being given a new coat of fresh white. In the towns, even the stones on the walkways underfoot are being spruced up, every one of them outlined again in a careful thin line of white. 

Easter is coming and to prepare, this is what you must do. As someone who lives there once told me, if you don’t keep up your end, everyone will know. It’s an obligation, a rite of spring-time, a part of the privilege of living in this blessed place. It’s what Sifnians do to make their island shine.

These photographs are from 2012 and 2013.

Coming: A New Sifnos Book

SifnosChronicles2_COVERI was browsing through Amazon UK the other day online, a site I seldom visit and there I found several reviews of my book, The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, that I hadn’t seen before. As every author would be, I was interested to know what these readers had to say. And I must say I was thrilled with every single word I read there.

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book,” said the first reviewer. “Written by a true lover of Greece and its people.” 

“Beautifully-written,” was another’s opinion, “describing so well life in Greece on the smaller, unspoilt islands. Probably one of the best books I have ever read on the subject of holidays in Greece.”

“I loved this book,” wrote a third, “an account of the author’s observations of daily life on Sifnos with all its theatre and high drama. It should appeal to all travellers to anywhere in Greece.” 

My reason for sharing all this today lies in what that third person said next: “I hope there’s a second book.” 

Well dear readers on Amazon UK and everywhere, there is. Or there will be very soon. I don’t have an exact publication date quite yet, but the book is in its very final stages. 

This book, my second, is also set in Sifnos and so Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales it’s called. You’ll see its front cover above. If you’re looking for wild adventure, you’ll have to look elsewhere. As for drama of the high variety, though I suppose some might see that, I won’t make any promises on that front. This is a quieter book, the story of two Canadian travellers who, returning to a Greek island they’ve come to love, immerse themselves for a month in the rhythms of life in a secluded fishing village and savour the connections they make there. A tale of how people, even those who speak different languages, find ways to communicate.

Those travellers, as in the first Sifnos Chronicles, are myself and my husband, Jim. I have to say that, though we find much to savour in traditional village life, not all is sunshine and light and sweetness for us during that month. There’s the waiter at the taverna who, when we make a request to finish off our meal, throws his hands high in the air and shouts, “Oh no! Now I have to make coffees again!” Our worries that we may somehow unknowingly cause offence in this tight-knit community whose way of life and language we barely begin to understand. There’s the onslaught of gifts that overwhelms us at times, a heap of raw fish on one occasion. But always there’s friendship and joy. Plus copious amounts of delicious Greek food and drink.

Watch this space for further announcements. Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales will be available on Amazon. If you’re lucky enough to be in Sifnos yourself, you’ll find it shortly at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop, in Apollonia. There, as everywhere on Sifnos, you’ll experience what I find so irresistible about that Greek island’s life, why I feel so compelled to write about my experiences there.

And if you haven’t yet read The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, my first book, and would like to, you can find it on Amazon or in Apollonia at To Bibliopoleio as soon as it opens for the season.