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
Our destination tonight is one of the tavernas that line the seafront in Kamares, the ouzerie with the green tables and chairs. At first I’m not sure if the woman who brings us the menu is her, the owner we met when we were here two years ago. Then she smiles.
“We’ve come back … from Canada. Your food is that good.”
Again that smile. It’s such a comfort to find people who understand at least some English. And the more I think about it, so easy for us to take for granted how lucky we are to speak the language the rest of the world wants to learn. Our ouzos soon arrive and not terribly long after, the large bowl of “summer salad” we’ve ordered. Red and yellow peppers, cucumbers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, the crunchiest fresh greens. It looks, and smells, as good as I remember.
We dig in and as we do, we return once more to the topic we’ve been discussing all day since Xeronissos. The wedding. Jim, who loves little more than to tease, kept me guessing for a goodly long while before he finally gave in and explained. He’d arrived at the top of the hill this morning and found several people there in the church yard. They were planting red geraniums in a small bed against one of the whitewashed stone walls. He greeted them, as one would, unpacked his camera and rested for a few minutes on the shaded bench, then added kudos for the beauty of the blooms.
One woman understood what he’d said. All were members of the same family, she told him, and their bout of gardening was in preparation for a wedding there on the weekend.
“Mine,” she said. “Would you like to come?”
“Well … yes … But do you really mean that?”
She’d be honoured, she said. She’s from Athens, a doctor, she went on, and she’s marrying a Sifnian. The wedding is on Sunday at 5. He’s welcome to bring his camera and, yes, his wife.
The family finished soon thereafter and gathered their tools. “Could you please shut the gate when you leave,” the bride asked, “so the goats won’t eat the flowers?” Her father showed him how.
Whether we’ll go was decided hours ago now, about two seconds after Jim started into his tale. How could we not? To a hilltop wedding? In the late afternoon sun? At the very tip of the island? With the Aegean all around?”
There is, of course, the question of what to wear. A wedding is hardly what I packed for and, no matter how hard I scour the depths of my luggage, I’ll find no formal attire in there. And in that department, Jim is barely any farther ahead than I. We’ll just have to make do somehow.
In Kamares now, traffic is beginning to build on the street that runs past these tavernas, all of it aimed toward the pier. Cars. Trucks of various sizes. Groups of travellers towing suitcases behind them. The first three or four of the island’s ten taxis.
We pay our bill and then start into our platefuls of thick yogurt with quince jam that has arrived unordered. But we don’t linger over this treat, the sort of gift that appears so often to end our meals around here, for the Speedrunner II has appeared in the gap. We hurry to finish then make our own way to the dock.
The ferry – not the big blue-and-white Agios Georgios that we sailed on, but imposing in its own right – is one minute steaming bow first into port and the next it’s turned completely around. Its huge rear ramp is swaying down toward the dock. Two motorcycles have pulled up there in the last minute, each driver’s task to catch one of the ropes tossed down from on board and to secure ship to shore.
A man in crisp maritime navy-and-white is the first off the boat as it’s being tethered to shore and he hands papers to a waiting official. Soon another officer unhooks a chain across the back of the ship and passengers begin to stream onto the dock. The crowd seems endless and all seem to know where they’re going, none with the bewildered look I surely did on our first arrival. There are shopping-bag-laden locals on their way home. Athenian weekenders. A few backpackers. A handful of wheeled-suitcase travellers. And those going in the opposite direction who won’t wait their turn to get on board.
Jeeps and Peugeots have started to glide down the ramp. Trucks of all sorts follow. Motorcycles too. When all of those arriving have finally departed the ship, the port policeman blows a whistle and waves his arm, the signal to the vehicles queued on the dock to proceed.
In time when the comings and goings, the arrangements and rearrangements have ended, and the man in the navy uniform is back inside, the huge ropes are released from the cleats and fall with a splash. The ship lets out a plume of black smoke and pulls away from the dock, its lights bright against the darkening sky, and steams out of the bay.
Jim and I, of course, are not on board. It’s not nearly time for that yet.