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 that are 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 onto the ancient marbled paths that wind 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
It’s fraught always, the act of packing to leave, this cramming of one’s life into a few pieces of luggage. There’s the finality, the shutting of one of life’s chapters. The joy at all that was seen and was done. The regret for what wasn’t. The question of how, or whether, all of one’s possessions will fit back inside.
It’s seven weeks of our lives in total now that Jim and I have lived here on Sifnos and, as on the last time we left, we take home with us much more than we brought. Antonis’s hats. The souvenirs we’ve bought or elsewise acquired. A few new words of Greek. Jim’s photographs and mine. And the tales.
Oh yes, the tales.
Will we be back? The question tonight hangs in the air. Two years ago, the answer was easy. The world is large, the list is long, and there are plenty of other places we haven’t seen. This time it’s a whole lot less simple. The future will unfold as it will, is as definitive an answer as either of us can give at this moment.
By contrast, those who live here are certain. I’ve lost count of how many times in the past days the response to one of our good-byes has been, “See you next year.” Stavros the baker expressed in his own way a sentiment along those lines. “No Ingleess,” he bemoaned this morning and with our breakfast he brought out two almond cookies.
Sadly, though, when we went to Roula’s for one final time, she wasn’t there. So I’m left to wonder what she would have had to say about the matter this time. Niki was at work, though, and she seemed genuinely sad to see us go.
“Now … what can I give you?” she said after we’d paid for our lunch and she turned to the shop’s well-filled shelves. A bag of cookies tied in a blue bow, a handful of pasteli – the cellophane-wrapped honey and sesame seed bars like those passed out at the wedding – and a package of small oranges slathered in a sugary syrup later and I found myself wondering where on earth we’d fit this all in.
But she wasn’t done yet. “Here’s some tea.” She thrust into my hand a bundle of dried herbs. “Not sage, though,” and she turned reproachful though sparkling eyes toward me. “You drank all that.”
That I did, drink her sage tea. There’s little I find more warming.
In the end, though I feared that I’d not manage to force the zippers shut, all of her contributions did fit somehow and everything was finally inside. And then at the last minute, not much more than an hour ago, I found myself with one more item to add. We’d cleared out of the apartment and were in front of Nikoleta’s to wait for the taxi. Jim is a man who likes to be early and one, I know, who is itching to get back to his darkroom at home, so we had plenty of time. Grandma joined us. By now I can handle polí kalá and oráia with ease and any number of Thelúme thío bírres, but the longer we waited and the more she chatted, the more I strained to decide what I could say next. Then she handed over the small plastic bag that she had in her hands. Open it, I understood. Inside, wrapped in tissue, was a scarf.
She’d … bought me a gift.
I was stunned. Put it up to your face, she mimed and I did. In a shade of pale yellow like one she’s seen me wear often, it was soft and it was cozy. And she hadn’t forgotten about Jim. “Glikó?” Would you like sweets?
This is the exact question his German great-aunt always asked whenever we left her house, no matter how short our intended trip. Today’s answer, “Oxi efharistó,” was as effectively received as its Stuttgart counterpart always was, which is to say completely ignored, and soon he had in hand a bagful of chocolate-wrapped biscuits. When the taxi came to take us away, this time Grandma had a big hug for him too.
Such a philosophy these people choose to live their lives by. One kind act brings two people joy. It’s the sort of saying that ought to be inscribed on a plaque. With each encounter like this that I’ve had on Sifnos and they’ve been legion, far too many to count, I’ve found my reserved Canadian heart pried farther open, more determined to carry to carry home with me this way of being.
No wonder we found ourselves so compelled to return.