I've fallen in love with Greece all over again. We've 'only' lived here for almost thirteen years, it's true, but everything that I used to look for and love about a Greek holiday many years ago I've just re-discovered on Patmos.
When you live somewhere it's so easy to get used to your surroundings, to cease noticing them. I know this even from growing up in the Georgian city of Bath, UK, where so often visitors would say how wonderful it must have been for me to live in such a beautiful city. Yet I walked its streets largely oblivious to their architectural charms. The world-famous Roman Baths I only ever visited for the first time when I was fifteen, and that was because, during a school exchange, we had a French boy staying with us for a month and so decided to show off our home town with pride. We took him everywhere and gave him the impression that we did indeed appreciate our 'heritage'. I wonder if he ever caught on.
Still, anyway, when you live somewhere, irrespective of how lovely your surroundings may be, you have to live a regular life. There's washing and ironing, shopping and earning a living, perhaps gardening and washing the car, getting it serviced, that sort of thing. There's cooking and cleaning and washing up ('doing the dishes' folks. I know, some of across the pond think 'washing up' is rinsing your face and hands). Although I guess that last one's a puzzle for a lot of people these days, living, as we do, in the dishwasher generation. Both me and my beloved are firm anti-dishwasher people I'm afraid. They're so awful in so many different ways for the environment. But no point going down that road here.
|The Petrino café/bar...again.|
Today, though, sitting for an hour or two in the delightful central plateia, which is set just back from the harbour in Skala, Patmos, was for me a kind of 'life affirming' moment. Watching the faces we've become familiar with over the more than two weeks that we've now been here, interacting with each other, going about their island lives, was truly a warming experience. Here there is virtually no crime, here everyone knows everyone else, and here everyone says hello.
As I sip at my freddo espresso, I watch people, many of whom already greet me like I've been family for decades, doing what they do seemingly every day of their lives. A thirty-something young man, with a big bushy beard (à la mode) and hair shaved to a No. 1 on the sides of his head, although a thick mop of black curls adorns his crown, bounds up to an obvious friend, who stands up from his table to be sure that they greet each other in the time-honoured fashion, with a kiss on both cheeks and a firm handshake, which lasts for a full minute, while they converse, before the visitor bids his friend 'Kali sine'heia' and wends his way.
A young girl, barely twenty if she's a day, arises from her chair, where she sits with a clutch of her peers of both sexes, and once again flounces her way between the tables and, on this occasion, into the building, making sure to be seen by all and sundry as she makes it look as if she has somewhere important to go. We've noticed this girl a few times now. Today she is wearing a pair of denim shorts that are so tight and so short that we remark that, had they not been denim, you could have called them knickers. Every time we've sat in the Petrino she's been there. She never sits still for longer than a couple of minutes without seemingly finding some reason to get up and flounce off, only to return a few minutes later, once again extremely conscious of the watching eyes of all those around her as she returns from another important 'errand' to her table of company, where she smiles and immerses herself once again in the conversation, while also picking up her mobile phone and glancing at its glowing face.
Stylish forty-something women, who evidently look after themselves, emerge from the doors of the several clothing and accessory boutiques that are situated around the square and walk the few metres to a friend's chair at the bar. These are the women who run the boutiques. They'll rest their hand on the shoulder of a friend and throw their dyed blonde hair over one shoulder while sharing a moment's pare'a, only to quickly return to their store as a woman in a floppy hat enters to see what's on offer inside.
Senior gentleman and women pass by, continually greeting all and sundry, occasionally stopping to embrace some old friend they've known since the cradle. People whizz through the square on scooters and pushbikes, some with plastic crates strung on to the back precariously, some with smart top-boxes with the logo of some courier or other emblazoned on the side.
Lots of people here have businesses, of course. We have the deep impression that this island is generally quite well heeled. Most of the tourists here are French, many of whom evidently spend long periods here during the summer months, judging from the frequency with which we see them interacting with the locals, often displaying an impressive knowledge of the language too.
The young folk seem to have an awful lot of time on their hands, judging from the fact that, every time we come to sit in the square, the same crowd are usually already there, or arrive while we're sitting there. I refer here to those who are old enough to have left school, but most of whom aren't yet married. This is a little micro-society set far from the madding crowd. Patmos is a tiny corner of the world where people can afford to be civil to one and all and whole families seem to have the time for their volta once or twice a week. Amazingly attractive and tastefully dressed women push baby strollers around the place, sit together in small groups and drink coffee, or do the same with their husbands.
Theologos, one of the waiters in the Petrino, is a new father and often his wife will turn up at around 10 or 10.30pm to spend a minute or two with her husband, stroller before her, and we watch as the very tall Theo 'coo coos' his young daughter and slides an arm around his wife, before he kisses her and she goes home, to await his later arrival. The three guys who wait tables at the Petrino have a good schedule worked out, since two of them have young families. They work a week of mornings, then a week of evenings, so as to have time for their families.
This far from big city life, one could think that the locals are missing something. But in all honesty, I see it as the other way around. OK, if you need your car or motorcycle to go for its roadworthiness test, it's a bit of a trial, involving taking it by ferry to a larger island every now and then; but when you have a climate like this one, and a community of only around 3,000, which means that everyone truly does know everyone, you have something that far transcends the pressurised, crime-conscious, anonymity of life in a city.
The quality of life here is something hard to evaluate, except to say that it's of the highest calibre. Many local young men, who have the latest phones anyway, get by on running the family beach restaurant and umbrellas, the fishing business or the car hire company, and what more do they need to aspire to? People raised in far away countries aspire to the sort of lifestyle that many here are born to. I remember being told a very sage yarn some years ago about a rich American tourist espying a man living in a tumbledown shack near the beach on a Caribbean island. As the old man scaled fish into a plastic bucket, the tourist asked him:
"That your boat moored by the beach?"
"That how you make a living?"
"Yeah, man, I sell a few fish. I get by."
"And you live in this old shack? Why don't you hire out your boat to tourists for fishing trips? Maybe you could afford to fix your place a up a bit."
"Then what, man?"
"Well, you may end up getting another boat, maybe a contract with a local tour operator, even a fleet of boats, maybe expand to other islands. You gotta think big."
"So, I do dat. What then man?"
"Who knows? Move to Miami. Make a mint. You could go somewhere in the world of business. Become a big mover."
"And then? Then what, man?"
"Well, you'd eventually be able to retire early, well minted."
"And where would I retire to man?"
"Well, you know. Somewhere like ... (ahem) this, maybe?"
"I already here man."
Yeah, I can be philosophical with the best of 'em. I just hope that no one ever decides that they need an airport on Patmos.
Here are a few of my fave photos taken around Skala...
|Can you wrap him up, please? or perhaps have him delivered...|
|One of the nicest, most healthy bougainvillea we've seen.|
|No you can't take it home with you.|
|The excellent Pantelis Taverna. Order their signature salad, it's amazing.|
|Imagine the way this street looks in August.|