In the morning, any morning, Apollonia is abuzz. It feels as though everyone who lives on Sifnos is passing through here, the main town in the centre of the island. Shops in the square are already open, the spaces in front of each business swept clean, the windows shined and ready to face the day. Kids with their coloured backpacks are heading toward school. Traffic to the post office is steady, to the pharmacy and the bank as well. It certainly is to the periptero, the small kiosk that sells an astonishing array of cigarettes, snacks, drinks and everything else you might need.
The cafés, of course, are filled with people who’ve gathered there before they head off to work. Cars, motorcycles and vehicles of all sorts slow down for the curve, then slingshot around it, all the while checking out who’s in what café. If it’s someone they know, they stop and a quick conversation follows. Drive-by chinwags, I call these. Then the driver roars off wherever he or she is going. For a people-watcher like me, this is pure paradise.
Up in To Steno, the narrow alley that was the town’s main street long before gasoline engines were ever invented, tiny trucks and various delivery vehicles are delivering goods to the businesses, this the time of day that they’re allowed to drive up there. Driving, though, hardly seems the right word. Squeezing themselves between these ancient whitewashed stone walls better describes it. If one of these vehicles comes along, I know well enough by now to shove myself into a doorway to let it pass by. And if two or three of them meet, well, there is a dance.
I always smell the bakery before I reach it and if I’m lucky, the chocolate croissants are ready when I arrive. The coffee always is and it’s at one of its outdoor tables that I settle in most mornings to watch the goings-on.
When I first started to come to this island, all of this was a blur. But bit-by-bit, faces began to pick themselves out of the crowd and have by now become familiar enough that even if I don’t know their names, I do know a surprising amount about them. I know which woman is sure to do the rounds every morning, poking her head into every business to say hello. Who’s likely to drive by and when. Who carries how many family members on their motorbike and how they’re arranged. And I learned early on to say good morning to everyone I meet, whether I know them or not. It’s what everyone here does.
Kaliméra. Kaliméra. Good morning. Good morning. Kaliméra sas!
The day has begun.