Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Patmos People

The Petrino café, in the pretty little plateia just opposite the main port. The best place for 'people-watching'.

One of the most enjoyable things for me about visiting a new island, is the way we begin, slowly at first, to get to know the people around us. By the time we leave, it's like we know some folk really well, and through them have learned a lot about their island.

For example, Katerina, whom we met on our first night at Pantelis Taverna, is not a Patmian native, in fact, but came here four years ago, fell in love (with a bloke as well as with the island) and stayed. Now she's engaged to be married, although, as she put it, "There's no hurry." She it was who told us what the island's population was. It's a mere 3,000, not counting seasonal workers. There are only three villages on the island and four in the summer. When she told us that it put us in mind of Pefkos, near us on Rhodes. For those who know the village it's by no means deserted in winter, but for anyone passing through in a vehicle, seeing all the restaurants and bars in mothballs, one could be forgiven for thinking so.

To put some perspective on that. Naxos, our previous island of preference for a spring holiday, has a population of something approaching 19,000, and has (large and small) some sixty villages. Rhodes has an island-wide population of 105,000, more than 30 times that of Patmos. Interestingly though, the 'waiter' (he's most likely one of the owners) at the Petrino Café where we sipped our Mastikas last night at around 11.00pm, told us that he couldn't imagine living on such a large island. We had to explain to him that 50% of Rhodes' population is concentrated in Rhodes Town, and that Rhodes is, in effect two islands. There's the cosmopolitan North and the rural and sparsely-populated South, where we live. He still, though, betrayed his doubts with his facial expression.

"I like to live somewhere where everyone knows everyone else," he said. Whilst I could 'get' that from one angle, from another it kind of betrayed the quaint parochialism of one who's been born and bred somewhere very small. It's not a bad thing in many ways, it just perhaps imputes into one a kind of fear of the outside world. Certainly a small island like Patmos can boast a virtually nil crime rate. It's islands like this that first engendered in me the thought that, were I to have been able to immigrate to Greece in my twenties, I reckon that I'd have applied to be a Policeman on just such an island as this. Dreams of long days spent sipping a frappé with my feet up on the desk in a one-roomed Police Station, the only highlight of the day (or perhaps week!) being the arrival of a ferryboat now and then, perhaps requiring me to show my face on the quayside for half an hour or so.

As you can see from the above photos, the Petrino appears to be 'where it's at' for those of the local population who have time to hang out. Having now been here five nights, we're already realising that, with such a small population, you see the same faces all of the time. At first it was "Ooh, look, we saw him/her the other day." Now, though, we realise why that is, there are only so many 'extras' in this movie.

While chatting with the very attentive, if slightly obsequious waiter, Sozaki, at the nearby Netia Taverna one evening, we asked him, as we do most of them as an opener: "So, are you from Patmos?"

He told us that, yes he was, although he'd been around the world a couple of times before coming back here to settle. Plus, we asked him if "Grillis" was a Patmian surname, since it seems that many of the businesses here seem to be run by people with that name. He said that lots of the surnames here are corruptions of where the families came from, since lots of them have moved here over the decades from other parts of Greece. To the astute observer, the surname of a particular family gives away their original roots. Fascinating stuff we thought. Sozaki's own surname (which slips my mind right now, sorry) is a corruption of "Cretan", since his ancestors were from Crete back in the mists of time.

Returning to the Petrino, which is fast becoming people-watching central for us, we sat there again last evening and asked Dimitri, the gentleman who served us our humungous Mastikas, if we were right in assuming that most tourists on this island seem to be French.

"Yes," He replied, "they are." We asked him how this came about, and he continued: "It started circa 2011, when maybe 50 French folk came here. The next year it was 100 and the following year 1,000. then the more well-heeled among them started buying properties here, and so it's mushroomed." Sitting at the table by the wall last night, we must have counted at least thirty French people here on their holidays. The only British voices we've heard so far have been maybe one or two who seemed to us to have moved here and also to have learned the language, indicating to us that they're probably been here many years.

Just before I sign off this post, I've got to mention the rather encouraging 'freebie' culture in the restaurants here. Time was when it was ubiquitous all over Greece that at the end of a meal you'd be brought something as a little gift. It may have been some fruit, a liqueur, perhaps a modest dessert or something, but it seems in recent years to have become much more of the exception rather then the rule. I'm here to tell you that on Patmos the practice is alive, well and robust in health.

I may well post again about the food here, but just on the subject of 'freebies' - we've been very pleasantly surprised indeed. In fact we've even been told that for a Patmian restaurant not to give their customers something free at the end of their visit is considered rude and insulting.

The first night we ate at Pantelis [see previous post], where we received some homemade halva when we asked for our bill. The next night we went to the Tsipouradiko, where we received a nice dish of freshly prepared slices of apple (two varieties), orange, strawberry and something else too that I also forgot to note down. Saturday was Netia night, with our friend, the Clive James lookalike Sozaki, where we received a delicious slice of their homemade walnut cake. Last night, Sunday, we went to the recently re-decorated and rather shabby-chic, ever-so-slightly Bohemian Yiamas, and there they brought us also a very acceptable dish of fruit. Tonight we ate cheap at the Souvlaki Tis Plateias, where we ordered two veggie pitta wraps, a half litre of house white and a lettuce and onion salad. The bill came to a princely €12 and the delightful young waitress asked us, when we asked for the bill, "Would you like a sweet?"

I asked her what it might perhaps be, and she said "Pasta."

When pressed further, she said it contained chocolate. Now, I know what you're thinking, pasta à la chocolat? REALLY? Let me disillusion you right away, the word 'pasta' to a Greek doesn't refer to macaroni, it refers to literally a 'paste', but that can include such things as mousse, for example. So I knew what she had in mind and we both assented.

She brought us a portion each of a delicious chocolate mousse, which almost had the consistency of moist cake, topped with a kind of cheesecake mix and that was topped with a cherry syrup. It was a decent-sized brick of the stuff and, as we ate, it had us thinking that maybe, just maybe, we'd been had. It was the kind of dessert that we'd have expected to have paid €4 each for if we'd ordered it from a menu in a restaurant. Here we were, though, in a souvlaki joint and they'd brought us this. We knew what our bill was going to come to. The pittas were €2 each and the wine and salad both €4 respectively. Thus what we'd so far ordered totted up to €12. So, when the young waitress actually brought us our bill, I kind of expected it to perhaps read maybe €20. It didn't, it read €12.

Now how about that for generosity?

Just returning to the people for a moment. Something that's rather amused us, and this is in no way meant to be derogatory, but we've noticed that native Patmos women are all short-legged. People-watching as we do, we've already come to the conclusion that if a girl or woman that passes has regular-length legs, then she's almost certainly "not from these parts." Once you get your eye in, you see it clearly. Only yesterday, while sitting outside the Petrino (you get the idea of a sort of pattern emerging here, yeah?), we remarked on a number of otherwise model-like young women, who, had you only seen them from the thighs upwards, you'd have agreed that they could have been models, but when you noticed how close their body was to the ground, well - we found ourselves agreeing that they needed an extra six inches in the leg department in order to have carried it off.

I'll see if I can surreptitiously grab a snap or two before we leave to illustrate the point. As I said, no offence intended, merely observing!

Here are some photos from the last 24 hours or so...

I just liked the look of this house, which was only a few metres up this lane from the waterfront.

Tables and chairs of the Tsipouradiko Taverna.

Just setting up for the season.

A view down across Sapsila Bay on the road from Skala down to Grikos.

The front at Grikos, which really is still a ghost town at the moment. There was, however one taverna open, where we were able to order a couple of frappés before the walk back, which took just under an hour each way.

Ah, the wonders of the ten second delay.

View towards Skala on the walk back from Grikos.

Skala again.

The view from our balcony at night. I don't have a good enough camera to take a decent shot at night I'm afraid. But at least it shows the beautiful reflections of the lights in the calm waters of the harbour/bay.

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