The White Island

October 4, 2005

I have been cheating a little bit with updates, sending brief ones to my mailing list instead of posting them here. I arrived in Paros last Thursday, still a little drunk from a pub crawl four hours before, and the ferry unfolded us all into the most brilliant light. Everything is white marble and whitewashed buildings, the light bounces from stone to walls, reflecting on itself until it bursts onto your eyes at a greater intensity than it had when it arrived from the sun.

I wasn’t settled into an apartment until Friday night, and it took me a few days to build up enough time in my little flat before I really began to realize with a sense of wonder “It’s all here.” I have everything I need – everything is built to my scale. My old notebooks are filled with my half-formed doodles of the perfect little sanctuary, and it is almost always two rooms and a bath – which is what I have. The front room is tiny and has a couch, a wee desk, and a kitchenette of sink and counters cut entirely from one piece of marble.The largest room is the bedroom, with its double bed and great wide marble window that opens into the courtyard filled with orange trees., and the bathroom is just off the bedroom and has a fireplace and a wee bathtub that has a seat and just fits me. Just fits me perfectly. Every task I have needed to perform I have looked around and found exactly the space or tool I needed for it – I washed clothes at midnight last night while rocking out to the Beatles, and found my hatrack to be very accommodating. There were exactly enough little spokes rising from it to cap with each of my wet socks.

There are french doors in my front room that open out into the courtyard that I share with my friend Kathryn. I have citronella candles out there, and I eat my meals there. I am getting rather deft with hot plate cooking, if I say so myself. Every morning, I start my day with tea, and end it with tea or, like last night, a hot chocolate at Karen’s cafe.

Karen is a Scotswoman who came to Paros twenty years ago and never left. She is the social center for many of the locals in Paroikia (the main town in Paros where both the school and myself are located) and last night I was in the mood for hot chocolate and a little solitary company – meaning, I wanted to be quiet and alone, but I wanted to be around people, so I decided to seek out people I hadn’t met yet.

There were only two people at Karen’s when I arrived, and I stepped in shyly and asked if she’d still be willing to make a hot chocolate that late (the cafe becomes a bar at night). She didn’t answer, instead she got up and started steaming milk, changed the CD to Natalie Merchant and within five minutes had extracted my entire life history. As she grilled me, she paused occasionally to wave or toss a quick “Yiea” to the people passing by. More people started filtering in and Karen moved on to play gin rummy with an old friend who arrived, so I chatted with one of the students from the other school on the island, which was really exactly what I needed. New company, to feel more like a part of the daily life here. I slipped out with a wave and a “Cheers” to Karen, then ran home exuberantly, because my feet just felt like running.

Today, after my darkroom session, I stopped in for a cappuccino before painting class and ran into Alicia, who was a student last year and now works at the school. We immediately fell into an intense, wonderful conversation, and as Karen walked by she overheard and grinned at me. “Still greetin’ aboot your childhood?” she said, and winked, and I cracked up. There are arrivals, and there are homecomings, and I think I am experiencing a homecoming.

I am going home now to cook some pasta with the garlic I was supposed to be painting. I will come back after dinner and begin rebuilding the school’s computer network, late tonight after the students have gone. I could do it while they are here, but I like the excuse for walking the mad, crazy streets of Paros after dark, to see how the whites have turned to blues and yellows in the circles of light from the little houses stacked on each other.

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