Monday, October 24th was Seamus’ birthday, and his only request was that we all meet in the courtyard of the Aegean Village (our apartments) for a grand potluck. We scoffed – we were going to do that anyway!
So Monday night, Kathryn and I flung our doors wide open and Maria-Elena came over with raddichio and spinach that we made into horta, and Brittany flitted through both of our flats grabbing wineglasses as she passed, lighting candles and hanging streamers. The music was up loud (probably Sting) and we were bathed in candlelight and you could hear the voices all over the courtyard from all of our kitchens as each of us cooked and laughed and drank wine.
We met out under the vines and Brittany’s streamers and sang Happy Birthday and ate an amazing meal – Gabriel made mushroom pie, Becky made spanakopita, Kathryn made something glorious out of potatoes and bacon, and I cheated and bought half a kilo of gelato so that I could spend less time cooking and more time wandering around with my wineglass saying helpful things like “Oh, that streamer just caught on fire, you should do something about that”.
We laughed and ate and marvelled at what an amazing group of cooks we have and the evening wound down and people started to disperse, and we cleaned up a bit and I blew all the candles out and the talk turned to politics so I fled to the school to close down the computer room for the night. On my way back, I stopped back in the courtyard and found a few people remaining, including the birthday boy and Maria-Elena. The night was young and we were restless so we decided to walk out along the waterfront and down a bit to the Cave of the Nymphs. Two of us had flashlights and we walked in a straight line down a crumbly path on the side of a cliff over the ocean. The night was so warm.
At the end of the path, tucked inside the rocks was a door. We silently went inside, and found ourselves in a little grotto, a holy place of faded icons and unlit lamps hanging from a whitewashed, rocky ceiling. One side of the cave had been set behind a wooden screen, and on that screen people had hung icons and little slips of paper with prayers and wishes for their family tucked inside. Anne, who was a student on Paros a few years ago, quietly explained how to trim the wicks of the lamps and we quickly refilled the lamps and relit the candles until we were all once again bathed in candlelight, bathed in silent contemplation of the devotion of people. I had brought my own candle, because I knew I would need it. We had a jug of wine leftover from the party and we each took a sip in reverence, then wandered out to the rocks beneath the cave with the candles still flickering through the doorway, and chatted quietly in the warmth. I dozed on the rocks, under the light of half a moon. I awakened when a few more people were leaving, carrying their torches with them, and stumbled up the path to the street above, until I remembered that Maria was staying with me that night, so I called down to the rocks below and heard the three of them stumbling back up the path laughing. By the time they met me under the lamppost, I was awake and restless again, so we began our wandering anew, stopping at a playground and conducting experiments in leverage with the seesaw, playing on the swings, drinking from the jug of wine.
When we left the playground and continued along the beach, I looked out across the bay and at the clear moonlit sky and the waves of stars overhead and felt the warm breeze and thought of the cold week that had just passed and said “We should go for a swim. Let’s swim.” As we walked, we collected three or four of the local dogs and they followed us and took turns defending us from each other until we reached the sandiest part of the beach and stripped off our clothes and ran screaming into the gasping cold water. I could see the stars reflected in the water as I floated, Orion walking on water, shining clear through down to the sandy seafloor below. The night was so warm and I was swimming in stars and stars and you couldn’t see where the water met the land or the air. Across the bay the windowlights twinkled one by one, going out as the night wore on. I looked up and saw four stars fall into the ocean and I knew it might be the last chance for a night swim for awhile.
Blessed Maria had blessedly brought us towels and we wandered onto the sand and I was so surprised at how warm I still was so I walked with my towel to the dark space between trees and slowly got dressed without taking my eyes off the moon or the stars or the dogs at my feet fighting over my shoes. We headed back out into the lamplighted street and Maria kissed us all goodnight and climbed on her bike, and as we walked away I turned and watched and she flung her arms out and I could see the wild wave of her hair over her coat collar as she called out “Kalinixta!” as she rode and I thought to myself “Now THAT is an exit”.