I slept in this morning, luxuriating in the fact that my network was stable and that I had no classes scheduled. But as soon as I fully opened my eyes I leapt out of bed for a good hot shower and a nice breakfast of oatmeal with honey and a Nescafe fake-uccino, fuel for the hike that was planned today in Lefkes. I meandered down to the waterfront to catch the bus, meeting up with Maria-Elena and stopping at the little grocery we call the “7-11” for apples to take with us. Maria-Elena and I greeted the gentleman who runs it with a polite “kalimera” and he greeted us both asking “How are the young ladies today?”. Maria responded in Greek, knowing that I was shamelessly eavesdropping to see what was said and practice repeating the words after her. I heard “tris ores” (three hours) and I saw the man smile and respond by pulling his arms into his sides and dancing a little bit, and when we walked out I asked her “What did you say that made him do that little happy dance?”
“I just told him we were going for a walk.”
“Oh, so that wasn’t a little dance of joy, that was a walking motion. Got it.”
“Yes, the Greeks aren’t like you, Brianna, they only dance when they are at the tavernas.”
It was a good point. I am already somewhat notorious for my happy dances, having executed one upon my arrival at the Villa, and numerous ones this week in the marble courtyard whenever I thought I had the computers running. Anyway, we were soon at the waterfront to meet John, who had brought us wee apple pies (milopita – we will all speak Greek at the end of this adventure, if I can help it) and herded us onto the bus.
I had been looking forward to hiking all week – Paroikia (the town I live in, where the school is located) is lovely, but has pockets that are like any big city, and can feel claustrophobic after awhile as you become familiar with the winding streets and realize you’ve been travelling the same fifty square metres of space for days. So the chance to go deeper into the island and get a real feel for Paros was too enticing. I ate the landscape with my eyes through the windows of the bus – ancient olive groves in low stone walls, terraced up the hillsides then capped with ruined windmills. John pointed out one windmill, still standing with sails tied, and told us about Artemios who used to keep it. He told us how sad he was when the mill stood still, because no one after Artemios knew how it was done.
We reached the village of Lefkes and it was everything good about Paroikia magnified by ten, because of the openness and lack of tourists and scooters and just a relief. I fell behind briefly with each leg, snapping away at strands of bougainvillea slipping down whitewashed buildings, the mills, the shadows left by terracotta pots of flowers on the white stairs. John stopped at a bakery and insisted on buying two loaves of the “best sourdough on the island” which inspired me afterward to run to the grocery and get a sourdough starter going. It was a goal of mine before I came here, but I shuffled it aside and today I knew it had to be done. The bread from the bakeries is good and handmade, and thus goes stale in a day or two and then moldy after that. So it’s easier if I bake my own with borrowed ovens, in wee loaves that can be consumed fresh. We’ll see how it goes.
After the bakery, we arrived at a little building across from a ceramics studio. “This is Iria”, he said. “And it is a dream come true for me”.
It is the sanctuary John has been trying to set up for the students of the Aegean Center since 1988. A media-free place for meditation and study, drawing and singing and writing. There is a little space for sitting on the roof, and a place upstairs. The floors will have pillows and goatskins to sit on, but right now, it is all marble and tiles from the ceramics studio, who donated the space. It is a place of arches and white contemplation and I cannot wait to consecrate it with the other students next Friday with a big “bottle-breaking” ceremony. Because a few steps from the sanctuary is the beginning of the long road into the hills, into the groves where the olives and quinces grow, where today I laid on a rock and let the autumn day wash over me and I felt like myself at five, or younger – safe, pure, eager and whole. I will be returning to Lefkes on my own as often as I can, and it feels so good to have widened the sphere of my knowledge of the geography of this marble island.
On the way back, I stuffed handfuls of wild oregano and sage into my camera bag to dry in my wee kitchen, for the endless pasta I have been eating (I forgot that half a package of rigatoni feeds four large Italians and five of their children, so I will be eating pasta until early next week) and to add to the mizithira (sweet goat cheese) I bought yesterday from the butcher, who is also a friend of the Pack family and of the school. In fact, he is Gabriel’s (John’s son) godfather. He sat out in the sun on a lawn chair in front of his shop, chatting to the old men and handing out big plastic bags of white cheese. John saw me passing and stopped me and said “If you want mizithira, you should get it now before it is gone!!” and I had heard of it and heard you could make wonderful desserts with it, so I bought some. Lamdi, the butcher, asked me where I was from in Greek, and I said “United States” and he said “Where?” and I said “California?” and he said “Where in California?” and I replied “Los Angeles” because that is what I always say, since people have heard of it. He replied “I know California very well from Paros, and I never see you there.” I winked at him and told him I must have been lost in the crowd and ran off with my mizithra to the sound of the old men laughing. They are all old sailors here, and they know all the ports.
We also saw capers growing, ate carob pods and prickly pears, and played with two hound puppies who were fenced in a with a nesting goose and so eager to see us that I felt sorry for the little guys. A nesting goose? Most cantankerous creature on the planet. I would not want to be fenced in with it.
So that was today. You would never know I had a writing workshop last night, what with the muddled timeline, limited grammar, and run-on sentences, but I’ll leave it as it is, because that was today. Yesterday, I wrote a poem in the sun. The day before that, I help unwind two ravelled-up German tourists from the streets of Paroikia, and even though I gave them directions in English, they insisted on speaking Greek to me to thank me when they found the port. Today on the bus, as we passed the oldest olive grove in Lefkes, the bus driver slowed down so John could show it to us and put his hand over his heart as if to say “I, too, love this place.”