Now in Sifnos: My New Sifnos Book

KamaresWell, it is finally here. In Sifnos. At To Bibliopoleio, the Book Shop in Apollonia. My new book, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales, has arrived.

How exciting it is for me to have my book arrive in what I consider its proper home. I look forward to having an opportunity to read it aloud sometime to a willing audience in Sifnos, almost within in view of where some of its episodes occurred. I did the same thing with my first book, The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, several years ago and it was one of the most special nights of my life.

I love Sifnos, come here with my husband for a month now every year, and in some ways feel more at home on this island than I do even in Canada where I have lived my whole life. The new book tells the story of one of those returns, a time we’d decided to immerse ourselves in the life of a traditional small fishing village. The following excerpt, however, takes place in Kamares on the way to the ferry dock.

… the shops in Kamares have some of the most heavenly gelato on earth. We’ve earned it, we decided, and we’re strolling along the main street and savouring our treats when a man asks, “Is that homemade?”

“It is,” Jim replies. 

We’ve both been watching this man for a bit. He’s hard to miss. Not because he’s lumbering along under a huge backpack, clearly a departing passenger. Nor because he’s hindered further by what seems a gimpy knee. It’s because he’s been walking in the middle of the road, all over it actually, and has no idea that there’s a growing stream of cars, people and trucks backed up behind him on this narrow thoroughfare and that he’s forced them to stop now while he ogles our ice creams.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

Yes, this gelato is definitely homemade. We show him the café where we bought it. They have plenty more, we tell him. Tiramisu, one of Jim’s favourites and his choice today. Black chocolate. Something called banoffee. Mango sorbet. Many more.

“They just say that, you know,” the man says. “They take powder and mix it up.”

They? Who is it he thinks would cut corners like that? No Sifnian of my acquaintance. Not the man who sold us these, who once insisted on calling the friend who makes his apple sorbetto to be 100% certain it was dairy-free. “Nope,” I say, adding as punctuation a vigorous lick of my strawberry sorbet, “this one is homemade.”

“They have Ben and Jerry’s in Apollonia, you know.”

Oh, good grief. I don’t come to Greece to eat American ice cream, I’m about to say but Jim jumps in first. “That’s why I bought this,” he says. Lick.

“… Okay, then,” the man says and he shuffles off boatward. 

How long he’s been here, I have no idea, but certainly not long enough if he’s leaving still fearing that Sifnians are out to rip him off.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Sifnos and Apollonia, its main town, do drop by To Bibliopoleio on the main square. There you’ll find many books about Sifnos. I’m far from the only writer who finds it a fascinating place.

And if you can’t get to Sifnos, you can always find both my books on Amazon.

And on my blog, you can read about that night in Apollonia when in the moonlight, I read aloud from The Sifnos Chronicles.

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new this spring, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.

 

Available Now: New Sifnos Book

Piraeus 2I am delighted to announce that my new book, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales, is available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions. It is the story of two Canadian travellers who return to an island they love, immerse themselves for a month in a traditional fishing village and savour the rhythms of life there. Think of it as a sequel to my first book, The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle.

You can read an excerpt from the new book below. It’s an episode that occurs before we even arrive on the island. I hope you can sense how happy I am to be almost there.

From Chapter 3: “We’d arrived at the dock in Piraeus with plenty of time before our boat was scheduled to depart. The air was fresh, the sun shone and spring was here. We’d found seats on the boat’s outside rear deck, for the time being at least. I was excited. Jim was too, though in matters such as this, he is less demonstrative than I.

I love the docks in Piraeus, the busy seaport of Athens, have since my first glimpse of them and the first moments I spent there. Those huge ships gliding so smoothly in and out of their berths. Their names, so exotic-sounding to my ears: Hellenic Sea Lines, Blue Star Ferries, Ventouris, Nel Lines, Minoan. The correct way to travel around these islands is by boat, I once heard someone say, the way it’s been done as long as people have moved between them, and I’ve come to agree. Besides, to get to Sifnos which has no airport, it’s still pretty much the only way.

No Speedrunner, no Superfast Ferries or Flying Cats for us that day. We were going by slow ferry, the Adamantios Korais. Why rush to get to the island, Jim and I thought. Why not savour the voyage across these ancient seas. And why not, after a long winter at home, choose a vessel where you can comfortably stay on an outside deck for as long as you like.

The slow boats are the big ones that, in addition to carrying passengers and their luggage and other belongings, take along trucks loaded with goods that aren’t produced on the islands. Once, I even saw a long trailer back on board with a huge pile of telephone poles lashed to it.

I stood at the rail, watching those in charge load the ferry. Cars and motorcycles were being waved in and, trucks of all shapes and sizes. Everything from sputtering putt-putts to huge semi-trailers that must dwarf the island roads. That day, I saw something new, a hearse waiting to come aboard. Two in fact, one grey and the other black, each with its sad family walking alongside, its arrays of stiff flowers, and, this being Greece, its requisite bearded priest. Both were bound for Kythnos, I learned when they each got off there, the first stop on the voyage, about halfway to our destination.

I also kept my eye on the koulouri table. On the dock beside every boat in Piraeus in the hour before it is scheduled to leave, there appears a table piled high with stacks of sesame-seed-covered wreaths of bread. Koulouria, they’re called in the plural; they’re delicious and at one Euro, they go fast. What I like best, besides eating them, is to watch from the deck high above as the seller, in between collecting the coins and putting passengers’ purchases into clear blue plastic bags, deftly arranges, rearranges and re-rearranges his dwindling stock into increasingly sparse though admirably geometric displays. Today’s vendor was doing his part. …”

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new in spring 2019, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.

Rites of Springtime in Sifnos

Almost every time in the past two or so weeks that I’ve gone to Facebook, I’ve seen there another photograph of a group of Sifnians busily cleaning their island. From the south to the north, from families, groups of friends to whole kindergarten classes, they’ve been scouring the beaches, the roadsides and the trails gathering bits of trash the winter left behind.

And now as I write this, it’s the last week before the celebrations of Easter will begin and, as I’ve been there before at this time of year, I need no new photographs to tell me what’s going on right now. The paintbrushes are out and every house, every church, every town building, every wall is being given a new coat of fresh white. In the towns, even the stones on the walkways underfoot are being spruced up, every one of them outlined again in a careful thin line of white. 

Easter is coming and to prepare, this is what you must do. As someone who lives there once told me, if you don’t keep up your end, everyone will know. It’s an obligation, a rite of spring-time, a part of the privilege of living in this blessed place. It’s what Sifnians do to make their island shine.

These photographs are from 2012 and 2013.
Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new in spring 2019, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.

Coming: A New Sifnos Book

SifnosChronicles2_COVERI was browsing through Amazon UK the other day online, a site I seldom visit and there I found several reviews of my book, The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, that I hadn’t seen before. As every author would be, I was interested to know what these readers had to say. And I must say I was thrilled with every single word I read there.

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book,” said the first reviewer. “Written by a true lover of Greece and its people.” 

“Beautifully-written,” was another’s opinion, “describing so well life in Greece on the smaller, unspoilt islands. Probably one of the best books I have ever read on the subject of holidays in Greece.”

“I loved this book,” wrote a third, “an account of the author’s observations of daily life on Sifnos with all its theatre and high drama. It should appeal to all travellers to anywhere in Greece.” 

My reason for sharing all this today lies in what that third person said next: “I hope there’s a second book.” 

Well dear readers on Amazon UK and everywhere, there is. Or there will be very soon. I don’t have an exact publication date quite yet, but the book is in its very final stages. 

This book, my second, is also set in Sifnos and so Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales it’s called. You’ll see its front cover above. If you’re looking for wild adventure, you’ll have to look elsewhere. As for drama of the high variety, though I suppose some might see that, I won’t make any promises on that front. This is a quieter book, the story of two Canadian travellers who, returning to a Greek island they’ve come to love, immerse themselves for a month in the rhythms of life in a secluded fishing village and savour the connections they make there. A tale of how people, even those who speak different languages, find ways to communicate.

Those travellers, as in the first Sifnos Chronicles, are myself and my husband, Jim. I have to say that, though we find much to savour in traditional village life, not all is sunshine and light and sweetness for us during that month. There are our worries that we may somehow unknowingly cause offence in this tight-knit community whose way of life and language we barely begin to understand. The onslaught of gifts that overwhelms us at times, a heap of raw fish on one occasion. The waiter at the taverna who, when we make a request to finish off our meal, throws his hands high in the air and shouts, “Oh no! Now I have to make coffees again!” But always there’s friendship and joy. Plus copious amounts of delicious Greek food and drink.

Watch this space for further announcements. Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales will be available on Amazon. If you’re lucky enough to be in Sifnos yourself, you’ll find it shortly at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop, in Apollonia. There, as everywhere on Sifnos, you’ll experience what I find so irresistible about that Greek island’s life, why I feel so compelled to write about my experiences there.

And if you haven’t yet read The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, my first book, and would like to, you can find it on Amazon or in Apollonia at To Bibliopoleio as soon as it opens for the season.

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new in spring 2019, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.

 

Sifnos, Island of Stories

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How is it that everything that happens on Sifnos turns into a story? At least to me.

It’s a phenomenon I noticed the very first time I set foot on that island more than twelve years ago now. More than anywhere else I’d ever been, it felt as though I was living inside a story, that life was unfolding as a narrative would, with a new episode and new characters almost every day. Some of these people were minor ones in the tale and showed up but once or twice. Others would return again and again and insert themselves into my days, moving the story along. The next time two years later when I came back, it was almost as though I hadn’t been away and the narrative carried on right from where it had left off. So strong was this sense that I found myself compelled to write a book. The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle was the result.

But the story didn’t end on the pages of that book. Far from it and just the other day a new episode occurred. The funny thing is I wasn’t even on the island at the time. I was thousands of miles away at home in Canada when, out of the blue, I received an email from a woman who’d read my book and wanted to tell me that she’d enjoyed it. It’s always a thrill to receive messages like that, arriving randomly as they do from who knows where. She was telling me that reading The Chronicles had taken her from her armchair in England back to a place that she loves perhaps even more than I do. “We have a house on the island,” she said.

I replied with my thanks and then asked, “Which house is yours?” She’d given me information specific enough that I knew it was definitely one of two possibilities.

When her answer came back, oh dear, I thought. My sins had caught up with me. I was going to have to come clean.

“I need to own up to something,” I answered right away, and then I started in. “You came back to Sifnos and your house one time, in 2012 I think, and found your clothesline untied at one end and hanging onto the ground … I was the culprit who did that.” Then I gulped and hit Send.

Now, I’m normally not a vandalous visitor and one who steals into places uninvited. There were workmen at that house that day and as my husband and I were hiking past they welcomed us in to see the vistas from this lovely property. These views were of an order of serenity I’ve seldom seen anywhere, not even on Sifnos, and they called out to be photographed. But there was a clothesline running through what would otherwise have been the most perfect shot. If I’m careful, I remember thinking to myself, I can loosen off one end of the line, tie it up when I’ve finished, and everything will be fine. No one will even know I’ve been here. So I did just that. The first part, at least. It was a few days later that the thought smacked me. I’d forgotten to retie the clothesline. I think we were on the ferry by then, pulling out of port.

Sifnos is place where your actions really matter, I’ve said so many times. It’s a place where I’ve encountered goodness and kindnesses beyond almost anywhere else I’ve ever been and I’ve always felt that this makes it important to behave the same way. I’ve even been known to lecture the occasional person on the subject. “It is very important that you act honourably with people on this island,” I once said to a woman I’d met online who’d asked my help in planning her first trip there. She’d wondered about changing her choice of accommodation and, though she wasn’t aware of it, I knew that doing so would disappoint someone who’d already gone to some effort for her. “I have no idea how,” I went on, “but I can promise that if you do as I suggest, you will be rewarded somehow.” And if you don’t, I could have added, you will be found out. Fate on Sifnos is a sticky thing and will catch up with you somehow. I know that now for sure. 

Fortunately the woman from England who owns that house has a sense of humour and invited me to drop in to meet her or whoever in the family is there the next time I am. She’d tell them to expect me. Phew! Perhaps if I’m lucky – and if I deserve it – another of the lovely friendships I’ve made with some of my readers will develop. Perhaps my honesty will be rewarded.

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new in spring 2019, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.

Ode to an Old Ferry

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Though I’m well aware that those who are forced to use a ferry to go anywhere have their reasons to feel differently about them, those of us who travel for pleasure to our beloved Greek isles come to love the boats that take us there. We forgive every clank and bang that comes from the hull, rejoice that those old slow engines allow us more time on the sea, and marvel at the character that time has bestowed upon these ships. And so when one morning almost two years ago, I awoke to the news that my first love among the ferries, the Agios Georgios, was at that moment being towed to its final resting place, a wave of warm feelings and nostalgia washed over me. I penned the following words that very day but two years later, they mean as much to me as they did then. Thanks to a dear friend who reminded me about this anniversary.

 

***

March 21, 2017

As I write this, the old ferry, the Agios Georgios, is being towed across the Aegean, so Facebook told me this morning. Its destination is a scrapyard in Turkey where, sadly, it will meet its end.

I loved that boat. Of course. It’s the one that took me to Sifnos that first time in 2006, and for a long time it was the only way I’d ever gone there. On its upper decks, I learned to savour the voyage and saw clearly how, had I chosen one of those Greek isles you reach by air, there’s so much I’d have missed.

SONY DSCOh, the journey was long and the Agios Georgios never managed to arrive when the schedule promised. But on calm days, I could spend most of the voyage on its vast outside decks. Why else had I come but for the warm sun, the soft breeze, the blue seas? How better to experience these precious gifts than slowly? Besides, if it was windy, the various inside lounges were comfortable enough and the snack bars were always well-stocked with tirópita, spanakópita, Greek beers and much more. So, well-fed, we’d lumber across the Aegean, the ship’s engines wheezing out smoke and its old bones creaking and groaning. Three hours after leaving Piraeus, the first stop was always Kythnos, a place the faster boats of today often ignore. How anyone could live in a place so barren, I often wondered. But live there people do and trucks, cars, and foot passengers poured off. The next stop was Serifos whose main town, the Chora, winds its way up from the bottom of a hill and is crowned by a tiny church at its top. And then, about an hour later and, truthfully, about the time that I’d had my fill of the sea, the Agios Georgios would round those rocks and sail into the bay and toward Kamares. “Sifnos,” I’d hear the loudspeaker crackle or “Sifnou,” sometimes, that big horn would toot, and the huge ship would somehow in an instant have turned around and be sailing backwards into the dock. By that point I’d be in the bowels of the boat on the vehicle deck, my suitcase in one hand. With my other, I’d grab my husband’s free one and I’d give it a squeeze. We’d stand as close to the exit as allowed and the huge ramp would clank and would bang as it swayed down toward the shore. How eager we were for the fresh air that would push the gasoline fumes out of our noses, how anxious to touch this place that has come to mean so much to us both.

Over time, other ships edged their way into this route, newer ones and faster. One spring day just after Easter in 2013, my husband and I were on the Aqua Jewel between Sifnos and Serifos headed for Paros when there appeared what seemed to us, at least, a rare sight. The Agios Georgios and its competitors, the Speedrunner III and the Adamantios Korais were near enough together out at sea that they fit almost together into my camera’s lens. Until, that is, the speeds of the faster ships prevailed and left the old dear behind. What I didn’t know that day was that what I’d seen was a hint of the future and before long the Agios Georgios sailed to Sifnos no more.

SONY DSCSo tonight, when my husband and I lift a glass and, as we inevitably will, talk over voyages past, I may just shed a tear. To those around the world with memories of the Agios Georgios and with sentiments like these, Stin yassas, I wish youI wish you also calm seas, smooth sailing, and slow voyages with those you hold dear.

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new in spring 2019, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.

The Scent of Sifnos Herbs

P1100862When Linda, the Canadian teenager who in the 1970s had spent six months living and working in Sifnos, was set to leave the island for the last time, her boss Antonis assigned her one more task. She was to go out into the hills and gather wild herbs. She’d fill a bag with these and take them along to Athens, he said. She’d sell them there and make herself a bit of cash.

The first part of what he suggested was easy. Wild herbs grow everywhere here, she knew by then. Sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram and more. They’re the flowers and the greenery that adorn Sifnos in spring. The perfume that fills the fields once the summer’s heat has left plants crisp and turned to brown. They’re the nectar that feeds Sifnian bees, the honey that tastes so good on fruits or yogurt or melting atop loukoumades, those small light donuts that are best when eaten hot from the frier. 

It was the second part of what Antonis was telling Linda that puzzled her. She should sell the herbs she’d collected. How? Where? 

In Athens, was his only reply and no matter how she asked, he gave no more information than that.

But Linda knew enough to obey. On her travels she’d done stranger things than that, and all had turned out well. So as she walked along to the ferry, she picked herbs and put them into that sack, stuffed it full. She had plenty enough of her own belongings to carry along with her on that voyage, one that in those days was many, many hours long. But she was young and strong and could handle the weight of one more bag. So along these herbs came with her the whole way. Their aroma too and the memories they most certainly carried of all she’d done while in Sifnos, all that she’d learned, the multitude of kindnesses she’d received. 

When she got to Piraeus, that scent, of course, was still there. She’d barely stepped off the ferry, she says, when people started to ask what she had in that bag. Where were the herbs from, was their second question and as soon as she replied that she’d picked them in Sifnos, eyes would light up. They wanted some. How much?  And before she’d barely gone a block, she says, all that was left was an empty bag. Sell them in Athens, indeed. She hadn’t even made it that far.

The herbs of Sifnos figure in my own stories too. There was the fresh-picked sprig of sage that one morning in Apollonia, the kind, sweet and hard-working street sweeper set onto my breakfast table after I’d honoured him, he thought, by asking to take his picture the day before. Fasskomiló, as someone else taught me to say right after, a word I’ve never forgotten. There are the dried leaves of the same plant I order often as tea at my favourite Sifnos café. The ones its owner teased me once she couldn’t put into the bag of gifts she was sending home with me at the end of my trip because, “You drank it all.” There’s the memory, so clear as if it happened yesterday, of that hot September afternoon on the path from Apollonia to Kastro when those herbs and their scent poked their way into my consciousness for the first time. It was a pleasant smell I’d begun to notice, one that filled the air all around and followed along as I walked. A familiar smell, one I knew also lived in one of my kitchen’s spice bottles at home but I couldn’t place right away. I’d been walking for a while, pondering this question and sweating in the heat of the sun when it hit me. An oven. A roasting chicken. Sage, yes that was it. 

Smells ring bells, I’ve heard it said, and of the six senses, smell is the one whose memory lasts longest. A scent can take you in an instant back to your grandmother’s kitchen. To the crayons you used when you were a child, that time when every piece of art you produced was a brilliant one. Smell can take you through years and across oceans. It can bring me into the hills of Sifnos, set me into its very centre, can root me there in a field of flowers. How sweet is that?

The Lindaki mou stories, this Canadian teenager’s tales, begin here.

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new in spring 2019, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.