Friday morning, I headed to the docks early to catch the bus. A few of the students had already arrived and were animatedly discussing the octopus catch they had just witnessed. I always miss the good stuff – an octopus catch is a real process, involving turning the animal inside out and “sudsing” it on a rock, among other things. I loudly complained about having missed it, while secretly feeling relieved. After two months, there are a few cultural experiences I am alright with missing.
We boarded the bus to Pounta, to catch a ferry. We all traipsed onto the ferry in a line, and I was attracted to the shore across the bay – it seemed so close, was it part of Paros? Or something else? As we pulled out into the bay I could see a narrow strait seperated it from Paros, so it must be Not Paros – Antiparos, the little island we would be hiking across that day.
John pulled out his Friday morning treats – mizithropita and almond cakes. In ten minutes, we had arrived – the shortest ferry ride of my life. I limped off of the boat dramatically, complaining that I would need a drink after sitting on a boat all morning, which got a bit of a sympathy laugh. We’ve all been living together for nearly two months, it’s the privilege of close association.
Antiparos is tiny. It is an island you can hike across in one day. A small line of shops faces the bay toward Paros, and then they fade into the hills and it is you and an olive tree or two and numerous tucked away monasteries. We followed a trail of blood out of town (probably from a dog wounded in a fight – hard not to see against the marble stones) and into the hills, winding over donkey trails and goat paths to our first stop, Jun-Pierre Point. “I have an important announcement”, John said. “Scholars have finally decided that the cave on Antiparos is where Odysseus fought the Cyclops. Also, the place where we are standing is called Jun-Pierre Point, named after one of our former students. He was so overcome when he reached the top of this hill, that he insisted we all start skipping. I have never seen a person skip so far in my life. So, now we skip.”
I was a little confused. Odysseus and the Cyclops? Here? This same island? Skipping? What? I’d hardly had time to catch up before I was doubled up laughing at the sight of John and all the students skipping madly from Jun-Pierre point down the road toward the ocean, arms and limbs flailing, beaming in the sun. It was utterly beautiful and completely hysterical. I did not skip, I was laughing too hard.
We continued past ruins, ancient temples facing the sea. I found periwinkle shells on the top of a hill, and a broken piece of china. “This shard very accurately represents 1940’s style ceramic silkscreening” I intoned for Maria-Elena. “As you can see by the raised pattern of dots, this is one of the first mass-produced pieces of Corel in existence.” I kept it, though. Who cares when it was made, Odysseus landed here!!
Upward and upward, and sometimes we would lose sight of the sea for the hills, and other times distant islands would appear, hover towards us, then recede into the water. We found ourselves climbing marble that shattered into shards under our feet, and then we were all suddenly on top of the highest peak on the island, Syfnos in the distance, Paros behind us, and strange black birds hovering out across the water. “I want to know what kind of birds those are” but no one answered. We ate chocolate and almonds, and began to descend from the peak toward a sandy little cove that looked good for swimming.
It seemed close, but it was forty minutes across thorny fields on a goat path, spiralling down through thyme bushes. I dawdled, tied my shoes, climbed over stone walls and then back through them. When I finally reached the cove, some students had stripped and were swimming, others were talking to John. I paused to take notes in my book, then wandered aimlessly on the sand, thinking about Poseidon, reflecting that the whitecaps on the water looked like the limbs of naiads at play. I did not figure out how to work that into a poem.
We walked out the way we came, familiar now with the road, and the shortcuts between the curves. We reached the docks and the ferry wasn’t due for an hour, so we sat in a cafe and traded sandwiches for tasting. I bought vegetables and Twinings tea, because I was so excited to have found it somewhere. Some of us slept on the ferry ride back, but the light was too perfect for sleeping. When we reached the bus, it did not take us back to Paroikia at first, but instead circled to Aliki, past distant houses and fields with calves and sheep. I counted solar panels and aloe plants and thought about poetry.
Later that night, a few of us headed back to the Albatross for dinner. I wanted greens, and dolmades, and some good red wine. We lingered over our first course long enough that John found us there around ten and sat with us, and of course he knew the owners, so at the end of our meal a beaming woman brought out sizzling plates of loukamathes – little fried doughballs soaked in honey, but lighter than you would expect. She was very sweet, and seemed flattered when we all expressed our disappointment that they would be closing in November for the winter.
I only mention the Albatross, because it was there that John told us we should go to Rengas on Saturday for the live Greek music. “Oh, it’s wonderful. There’s this enormous lady with this VOICE, and the people are so friendly. You’ll love it.”
We all met there around ten o’clock or so on Saturday – by which point I’d consumed a few leisurely glasses of red wine while I cooked chicken stock and danced around to Bob Marley, then a glass or two of white wine at dinner with Brittany at the Happy Green Cow. Then we all walked over to Rengas only to discover a huge party there celebrating a baptism, so we sat down and had more wine. The music was incredible, and Maria-Elena knew all the dances, so on the easy ones she got us all up and we danced in a circle with the room whirling amid the wine and the noise and the incandescent lights and the unfamiliar smiling faces. At one point, she recognized a song and said “Take my wine glass and put it in the middle of the floor” so I stood up and wobbled over amid the dancers and left her glass on the floor, then stood against a column to watch four men with their arms on each others shoulder step carefully around the glass, moving faster and faster until one reached down and picked it up and danced with it. Toward the end of the night, Maria got up and danced by herself with a very old man, solemn and graceful, the wailing voice of the woman fading while we all sat and watched Maria-Elena turning with precision, moving with the music. How beautiful this is, I thought. How beautiful for her to be home and among countrymen. When the dance ended, I got up and left, stumbling home on empty streets, following the ends of cats as they disappeared around buildings.