I had lunch with a fascinating woman a few days ago. The last time I met her, the first time too, was when she came to my book launch party last April for The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle. She knows Sifnos too, she told me, because she lived there for six months over winter in the 1970s. She stayed with a family, she said, and was allowed to take their donkey to explore beaches and trails. Your stories are ones I want to hear, I said to her that day. But somehow time marched on and it took us this long to get together again.
But it was worth waiting. In the 1970s, a Canadian teenager with an adventurous spirit and less than $100 in her pocket, off she flew to Europe. For the next two years, she explored it and the Middle East, often “going native,” she calls it, working and living with local people. It was in a hostel in Athens that she and two friends decided that they wanted to experience Greek island life, and that it must be somewhere none of them had heard of before. They pulled out a map, someone pointed to Sifnos, and the next thing they knew, they were chugging southward across the Aegean on the old ferry, the Kalymnos.
When they arrived in Kamares, it was night-time, and all of the houses were dark. It was raining too. Someone consulted another map, pointed to Apollonia, the main town, and off they set on foot. It’s a good five kilometres away but they didn’t know that yet, and it’s up a steep and winding road, which they learned quickly enough. The rain continued to pour down and before they got too far out of Kamares, they decided it was time to take stock of the situation and spotted a house. Though the building was dark, they pushed on the door and found it unlocked. Taking care not to disturb anything, they slept on the floor and the next morning resumed their trek. It was much later she learned that, of course, the whole island knew where they’d spent that night and respected them for the care they had shown. Lindaki mou, she came to be called on Sifnos, which means something along the lines of my sweet little Linda.
The day of our lunch, she brought souvenirs along. Yes, she’s kept them safe for more than forty years now. She brought a map which had been folded and refolded many times, one that showed the island long before there were roads into Vathi or Xeronissos, a time when if you were going to either of those places, it would be by boat or along one of the island’s ancient hiking trails. She brought too her learn-to-speak-Greek guide, with many of its well-thumbed pages no longer attached to the spine. And she brought a stack of air mail letters her parents had kept tied together with ribbon, adorned by their wandering daughter with drawings of clay chick pea soup pots and other island sights. She promises to dig into those letters again and to permit me to share some of her almost-forgotten tales.
The donkey, though, is far from forgotten. “I was a horse-mad teenager,” she said. The father of the family she lived with and worked for in Pano Petali recognized this right away and asked if she might consider using it to deliver goods to customers of his. She jumped at the chance and over the next months, she trekked all over the island with this donkey. She walked mostly behind the beast, she said, and when it came to a fork in the path, it would stop and wait for her to say whether to go left or right. Or in the low whinnying sound that she remembers still and demonstrated for me, “Do you want a drink?”
Not that her life on Sifnos was all work. There were times when she’d go “on vacation” for a few days to the beautiful beach in Kamares, staying at the monastery of Agia Marina nearby. Lindaki mou, may this photograph above bring back sweet memories of this happy time in your life. I have so enjoyed the stories that you’ve shared with me and I will be greatly honoured to hear many more.
Next Lindaki mou story: A Donkey and a Carrot