While the world is housebound this spring of 2020 and so many of us who adore Greece can only dream of it from afar, I have decided that one of the best tonics for me is to share with you excerpts from my two books set on the island I love, The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, and its sequel,Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. Whether it’s Sifnos that you’re pining for or somewhere else in Greece, or if your heart yearns for a destination far from there, come along with me through the whitewashed alleys, into the homey tavernas, and across the ancient marbled paths through the hills of this magical isle. And please invite someone else to come along with us all. I will post these excerpts over the next while in no particular sequence, making as my selection the one that most speaks to me that day.
From: The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle
I’ve stretched myself over a warm slab of marble at the shore. Sunlight is strutting warm steps over my skin, quiet ripples are washing almost over my toes.
I’ve been here quite still for some considerable time now. But despite appearances, I’m alert and I have a mission today. My camera is beside me and my eyes and ears primed to catch every bit of action in this tiny fishing village.
There’s something that has niggled for the two years since I was last here. It’s what might have been. What should have been. What I missed that day while I stood not far from this very spot and the memory still stings.
I remember exactly how it happened. I’d pulled out my camera, switched to a wide-angle lens, and set up the tripod. I’d checked the direction of the sun, tried several angles. This shot I was going to get right.
The photo I did that day, I must admit, is beautiful. The curving sweep of the bay. Rich turquoise, perfect whites. Dusty earth tones. Fluffy clouds. That wee splash of red. The light that dances over it all and permits me, were I so inclined, to count every rock on the sea bed.
But this is all small consolation. So intent was I in that moment that I paid scant attention to the commotion and shouts from somewhere out of sight below. An argument of some sort, I gathered.
“Where were you?” Jim asked when he caught up with me later. “I was sure that was something you’d want to shoot.”
The man we’d watched earlier check over his fresh-painted boat, he told me, had decided it was ready to be launched and had managed somehow to gather all the men and boys of the village, every available bit of Xeronissan manpower, onto the lone corner of beach that I couldn’t see from my angle. They rolled the craft over a bed of logs and heaved it into the water. It was then that one saw his chance. A quick shove, some splashes and the game was on. The hollering, the laughter, the male jostling, the banter. The ritual as old, almost, as the sea itself. And I, with my nose in my camera, missed it all.
That day I made myself a new rule. Never – NEVER! – Ignore a Disturbance. Not in a village this size.
Today I hear no laughter. No disturbance stirs the air inside this cleft in the rock. No shouts cut into the calm. The only thing that could possibly be considered as action consists of shards of light jiggling across the hull of a thick-white-painted boat. That and a lone fisherman who is standing mid-deck near his craft’s small cabin, one foot on the rail. He’s been there the whole while and, with strong sun-browned arms, is pulling a length of yellow net onto his knee from the stern where about two-thirds of it lies. As he does, he runs quick fingers over the net, wooden floats clacking on the deck. If all is well, he nestles the section in question atop the tidy and growing pile in the bow, and more net follows in its wake. If not, if he finds a tangle, he untwirls this part. Minute-by-minute – clack – bit-by-bit – clack, clack, clack – centimetre-by-centimetre, the net travels from the back – clack, clack – of the boat to the front where tonight just after sunset, once more he will cast it into the deep and then near dawn haul it back in.
As I watch, quiet voices begin to float toward me from behind one of the farther boats. Earlier I saw three elderly couples, Xeronissos’s other visitors today, totter along the beach. More than one used a cane. Now they’ve slipped into the water, their ailments abandoned on the sand beside piles of their clothing, and they loll like lazy teenagers atop the silky water. A few giggles, some sighs. What more blessed place could there be for a swim?
Farther out in the bay, wooden boats float on water so clear they seem to be anchored in mid-air. So clear that even to eyes as myopic as mine, every pebble, every barnacle, every limpet, every black spiny urchin is there in plain view for anyone who stops to look down. I rouse myself enough to tally the little red fish and then to follow the grey ones with stripes on their bellies. Some I can’t count, the great swarms that one instant are massed together, then – WHOOSH! – they’ve darted away.
Jim’s finished at Agios Giorgios, the church atop the hill at the end of the island where he went for a walk, I see when I glance in that direction, and has started back down the path. That gives me only about ten minutes still. I pick up my camera. Perhaps if I watch more closely, the fish will organize themselves into a pleasing array. Or one lone sunbeam will point to a beautifully barnacled rock. Or, if I’m lucky, an octopus may swim headfirst in front of my lens, tentacles trailing behind.
To be honest, though, pointing my lens waterward is all for show and it’s the fisherman I’ve been angling for. My guess is that by now he’s decided I’m harmless and, if I ask, will allow a photograph. I lift my camera in his direction, arch my eyebrows and I’m right. He nods. I line up the angles and check the sun. Click. I thank him. Efharistó.
Clack, clack. Clack. Clack.
It’s no Photo of the Year, not even my year, but I feel sure that I’ve caught Xeronissos’s main act of today.
Jim emerges from between two houses and starts down toward the shore. There’s a lilt to his step. Clack. I’m hardly surprised. There’s little my husband loves more than the freedom to ramble. Soon he’s beside me and breaks into a smile, one that I know well.
“Do you want to go to a wedding?”
“Just answer. Do you want to go to a wedding? Sunday at five.”
Yes, he’s definitely pleased with himself.