|My camera, Kody, has at long last decided to join the Choir Invisible. At first I thought it was just that the scotch tape wore out over the battery bay but nothing would make him open his little shutters again to peer curiously at the world...so reluctantly I picked up a slutty little Nikon when the Greeks decided to open their shops again.
In the height of the tourist season the Greeks keep to their hours--a long break in the afternoon, closing early on Wednesday, early on Saturday, and open not at all on Sunday. And this on an island in the Cyclades that, for all its administrative centrality to the island chain, runs on the tourist peso. Greeks seem to just be like that. They have a way of doing things. It all makes sense, at least to them, and they stick to that. And God help you if you want to speed up on a sidewalk and there's a black widow in front of you. Black Widows, of course, are the night-bedecked crones who waddle along oblivious to the needs or intentions of young upstarts or impatient tourists, their only bestowing of recognition a muttered string of invective as you pass by, probably something along the lines of "Bloody foreigners. Always in a hurry."
I'm not in a hurry. Not here. I arrived on Syros on Thursday and have been decompressing ever since. Syros is a big island with several small towns, but I'm settled in the capital (and the capital of the Cyclades) Ermoupoulis. Ermoupoulis is named after Hermes, the ancient God of Handbags. In four days I've learned, or re-learned, several things about Greeks and tourists:
Greeks talk. A lot. All times of the day. Sometimes to a mobile and several people at once. While driving a car or a scooter. Most of the time they manage to keep it to the level of a dull roar, but occasionally it rises to the operatic.
They also like to be around each other. This is an innately social people. The ancient philosophers must have been driven to distraction in their quest for solitude and reflection:
"...so I told that quack Archimedes he could stuff his malaca friend into a parcel and mail him to Asia Minor and--"
"Excuse me, could you stop talking into that mobile rock? I'm trying to THINK."
"Oooh, look at him, he's trying to think. You must not be from here."
"I AM SOCRATES. NOW SHUT UP YOU FOOLISH PERSON."
"Oh, Socrates, eh? Not very Socratic, are you? I mean, you call this a dialogue? Seems more like a monologue to me. Or maybe a diatribe would better describe it. No, wait...wait...tirade! That's it! You're the Tyrant of the Tirade! That's good, isn't it--Tyrant of the Tirade... I guess I showed him. Stupid thinking malaca..."
(Sound of hemlock being imbibed, gurgling)
"Hey! Couldn't take it, eh? Couldn't compete, Socrates Tyrannus? Whatsamatter, Socky? Cat got your tongue? Look at him, starts a dialogue and won't even finish it."
I have also come to two conclusions about ancient Greeks, based on my extensive research conducted over the past week in the National Museum of Archaeology:
1) if you were an ancient Greek sitting for a sculptor, no matter what your tuchus really looked like, you ended up with one fantastic looking caboose for posterity.
2) if you were an ancient Greek sitting for a sculptor, your awareness of mortality was informed by the certainty that, some time during your statue's long existence, your nose would come off.
Modern day Greeks don't have himations, or whatever they're called, to hide their sagging keisters, not that they would. Modesty can be a virtue, especially on a beach, and particularly in a culture where swilling huge amounts of fat--yes, olive oil is good for you but it's also 100% FAT-- and lots of baklava and not exercising beyond turning over is considered de rigeur. This is not a svelte culture. At least there's lots of room to turn over on the beaches here, or I'd be swept under like the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes.
But Syros is grand. Today I walked out of the town and into the hills, determined to keep walking on the premise that if one keeps walking sooner or later one always arrives somewhere. And I did. After an hour and forty-five minutes and about ten kilometres of walking over beautiful arid hills in the pleasantly broiling sun I arrived on the other side of the island, at a little town called Kini. Kini beach is alright--it's packed with people, but quite pleasant--but by chance I discovered a brilliant little beach called Lotos which was basically empty the entire afternoon. It's sheltered, so there was no wind kicking up the sand in my ninety-five pound weakling face, and you can swim out a far piece protected by walls of rock on both sides. You can even see the sardines crammed onto Kini beach over on the other side of the bay.
Tomorrow I leave for Athens and things get bust again. For now, though, it's the best time of the day, five o'clock, when the Greeks are too smart to be outside and the tourists are still at the beaches. Quiet like a kiln on the main drag. Weather wonderful--wish you were here.