During our first few months on the island, the Journal was our most efficient means of conveying to the outside world the experience of setting up shop. Later, it served as a Guestbook for the many friends who came to stay with us. It’s no longer maintained, but preserved here for posterity.
Santorini. Atlantis Books. Bergman’s bittersweet soundtrack playing over and over, a rustic flûte calming as I watch the sun set. It really is as I imagined. It will be hard to leave.
The white buildings reflect a stark purity refract a harsh white summer igloos on black lava rock. Bright blue doors.
They are happy here. My dear sweet Tim and Quinn, and Karusha and Jenny.
Now new friends too, Craig, Oliver, Julian, Chris, Maria, Will. Beautiful people who make this dream real. The bookshop is so pretty too. Tim took care of the design and he made a huge bookcase like a shell. Books all spiraling around the shop.
Watching the sun fill up with land
I lick the salt off my lips
with an ouzo tongue, lightly hand
my stress over, off sticky fingertips.
Watching the sun fill up with land
Peacefully I come to understand
that I often lose footing on who I am
Beneath the moonlight
The cliffs are fingers of a
Great hand that shakes me
I’ve got less than a month left here. I’m not sure when I’ll be back and at the same time that this lack of knowledge worries me I am assured by my memories of January that set dates do little to add or take away from the sort of excitement that this place implants into your consciousness.
In a game of chess the master will ride on the wave of singular victories en-route to a checkmate that has been in the works since the first successful attack. In this way the constant building and rearranging and detailing have transformed the bookshop of my earlier memories into a storefront that rivals any bookshop on the planet. The downstairs living area sleeps 12 comfortably with the second level that Tim and I put in just before the masses began to arrive, and since Quinn and Karisha have moved into the space and detailed it to their liking it has become a section of the compound with its own personality. It must be mentioned that the arrival and building expertise of Quinn has sparked a third major building phase, one that beautified and sectioned off the living area in a way that all can appreciate. The cubbies and shelves that Quinn built have made our floors less clogged and the office area of the downstairs back bedroom has been transformed from a mess of cables and computers into a functioning workspace that is safe from the deadly dust that has caused all electronic equipment great pain. The photographs on the walls outside leading to our stairway have sparked the curiosity of more than a few otherwise cautious tourists, and everything from the newspaper rack to the plants to the freshly painted benches with poems written on them make every visitor understand that this is meant to be a place where the casual browse is only the beginning. We have even devised a way of diverting their attention from what is obviously a bathroom, placing small book displays on the stairs to keep them from adding to our plumbing problems.
The store is a place that I feel drawn to from all corners of this small village, including the downstairs living space. I find myself alone in the back room at different times of day, on windy mornings before the sun has risen or after midnight if the others are downstairs watching a film, staring blankly at the massive icon that pulls in unknowing costumers and leaves them gazing in wonderment at the entirety of our living dream. The books of the back room, fiction and drama, new and used, engulf the parameters of your sight whether you like it or not, and I like to imagine the masses of words that speak to each other when the lights are turned off, whispering so as to not wake up Craig sleeping in the mezzanine. Of course, Craig has probably just gone to sleep as the sun begins to rise, but the all of the characters in all of our books, tattered or crisp, must quiet themselves out of respect for the one that makes their shelf life possible. Having known Craig as long as I’ve known anyone, I can think of no one else that I would have followed out here as blindly as I did. I didn’t know these people, I didn’t know this place, and I didn’t know how much of a pampered baby I was before coming here, but with one month to go in my first season here I can safely say that coming here was no mistake. I sit in our bookshop and remember the shelves as empty vessels waiting for knowledge and magic and failure and triumph, stories about an anonymous turd in a toilet and stories about bullfighting and California, plays about nothing and Shakespeare plays that I’ve never wanted to read. When I look at the shelves now as the people slowly duck their heads in from the blinding light and staggering view, I feel a kinship with each character in every book and I’m overwhelmed by the feeling of wanting to walk around the shop with their wellbeing in mind, handing books to travellers that might have only come down the stairs to ask for directions or thinking we were the way down to the beach. I want to sit them down and talk about their favourite books and I want to invite them back.
the ferry we came in on sounded like a dieing sea monster, that doesn’t sound good does itwill commented. no it doesn’t. i coud see tim standing on the edge of water in his long tattery coat. ‘that will be one of them’ i thought to myself. when i met tim i held out my hand for an introduction and he hugged me and we kissed cheek to cheek. i knew that tim was warm and open and i liked him automatically.
One of the greatest times i have had on my whole two days, and i use whole because they have been filled, was wandering from town into maria’s home. her home was lovely, shaded with compforting iteams everywhere and cats, lots of cats, rather i should say including cats,she had lots of compforting things including cats. there were so many and some so pregnant that you didn’t want to sit or the chairs would pop out kittens, like surprize surprize puppy surprize, except this time with cats, some stuffed with babies. surprize. maria gave us tea which i was thankful for because i still thought that i was going to throw up after the long night on the boat, will finishe half of his.
i knew that i would like will before i said hello, first impression i thought that craig was from boston because of the style of his beard and i knew that will had to be nice because of his slight inward frantic movements halling this gigantic bag allover the port. he had all this shit on him, a large suitcase, a backpack, a laptop, and craig had just the tinny single bag. at that time i still thought that they were traveling, so will obviously had to be insain. they were quite a dinamic dou as it were, one stumbling like a thrilled Lucky the other zipping about grabbing wiskey and tickets.
the island is beaustiful, i have desided that it is a boy because it was formed with ruff housing and it is a rugged spew.
we went swimming, one of tims favorit things to do, the water was clear, lovely. we then went scrambling up the side of the cliff. i was always drawn to water as a child, i would beg my parents on trips to england to stay on the cliffs so that we could watch the sea powerfully smash into them. we went to the white cliffs of dover as a result and i was absolutely disappointed. first of all my cliffs weren’t white, they were dark and huge and strong, not crumbling and historic, they were magnificent and lonely. now surrounded by cliffs i realize i have become more accustomed to the land, i have spent my time outside running and climbing. the water was gorgious, but sneaking over the loose rocks and avoiding and then finially surrendering to steping on the wild flowers was engaging for me.
there is a cat here, i love her, i love cats, if the letter hasn’t revealled that already.
Athena and i were looking at each other last night, Athena is the dog, after being with her for a day she trusted me to hold her head calmly that afternoon while chris picked a tick out of her ear, a nasty bug, very big with its ass sticking out of the poor girls skin. sucking away. In his words Chris had saved her life earlier in the day when he had bravely ripped a tick from her neck. when Athena and i were sharring our moment, she curled up on her pillow on the floor, i was struck by the randomness of the things that we are given to love. one of those look up at the star moments that strikes you every time by its magnificents. here was this once stray dog, like the many others that i had avoided in athens, although athenian dogs are a whole new breed of nasty, and here i was in so short a time loving this dog.
the kitchen is small and compforting. maria when she came back from athens had brought bags of spices. this family on the island is so lovely because it is a celebration of each of them, a focus on very important things in a quest for happiness. brushing my fingers over the bags of spice was subtle and memerable. each character here is rapped in these same warm colors. wrapped in a revealing container because of the island and the situation of living on each other. every space here is small with ideas of an overall vastness, that could be assisted by tim’s spirituality. we have to hike to drop the kiddies off at the pool and we wash our cups in craigs spit from brushing his teeth and it doesn’t matter, none of it is a struggle, it is mearly a matter of how and where. the simplier question of where, disgussing openly with each other why because the whole of the progect is done off of instinct. it is a new way of explaining ones self that is truthful in its connection to action. there is less bullshit because of the consistancy of the physical.
the building itself can not escape its natural beauty in its design. the shelves are a pridful creation, constructed out of found and given pieces of wood. much like the personality of the shop itself, founded out of given things and discoveries. i am painting a wave on the roof of the shop, last night we were laying down the stincel through the sunset and into the night. for a while tim was cutting, i was drawing and craig was tapping down. what a good metahore i thought chassing tim with my pincil, tim who is charging down creating a line that i the visiter in helping with the creation can only naturaly fallow and craig who grounds the project and the ideas pasting them quickly with scotch tape.
i want to talk about each individually, i would rather talk aobut them than about anything else, really, they are the reason i am here. If i hadn’t felt right about the couple on the dock i never would have said hello and the others happened to be great so i desided to stay. i should start off with oliver because i haven’t talked about him yet and i haven’t found a person that makes me as truely happy as he does in a while.
Oliver was discribed to me as an all american strong boy who is terrible at Greek. ef-har-ees-sto. yes my friend, EF- har-eeeees-sto. he is a forward personality whos ease with himself and his openions makes every gesture ginuine and robust. from the very first night he would check up on how i was doing, an appreciated jesture in a new place. he also makes me laugh constantly beause of his truth, he is so funny. all that coupled with the face of a newly made carpenter, blond hair and red face.
Chris is a compfortable character as well, he punctuates moments with rap lines and stays by the side in discussions, so we wisper to each other. i love wispering, it is sharring so privately. in ghana when you meet somebody you snap your fngers together, so the first time that you meet you are making noise togther. i tend to aproach meeting people with wispers escallating untill we pass by the rush of interaction until, with the vibrant few, we return together with a wisper. i feel at ease around chris, and he only jumps in cold water long enough to feel the pleasure of getting out again.
Maria was not here on my first day. i slept in her bed and learned that she liked a warm compforter, so do i. the other night on the roof i wore her jumpper, it was warm too and it smelled nice. how she mannaged to smell good in an environment like this is beynd me, fortunately i enjoy natural human smells. it was the first time that my lower back had been covered and insulated since i have been on the island. i bring up these iteams because the whole house changed when she came back, she brought an energy and a warmth to the house that keeps things cohesive and alive. She holds her own in a house full of men, which i like, she seems sturdy. i also bring up cloth because i think of it as holding its own fimininity, winding and bunching and warm.
it was harder for me to get to know Craig at first. On the ferry he was inviting but maintaining his own thing. After awhile he opened up more and became this wonderful caring person, peeking around to check on things before running away with the van. it has been good to stay here because i got to see more of him revealed.
will, like i said at the top i desided to say hello because of the way that he walked, tumbling around with his feet. i appreciate the way he deals with his hair in hand and slept on the boat with his hands tucked between his legs. i think it is great how much he loves and appreciates music, that is generally a sign of good character. he hints at quite and is kind, he likes the cat, and experiencing together feels filled. he has a great charactiture, sucking on his pipe in a cordiroy jacket totally scruffy, but for my taste i am glad that the darker richer qualitys are ballaced nicely with a like of sweeter flavors, lighter tabacco, a bag of almonds, feeding on light and air.
tim is also a character. the crab with big perswading claws, cuddiling with the masses before plunging into the sea. he is passionate and slides his conversations from talking into a high pitched tone whos range displaces making everything funny and assisted by his own wonderful laugh. it was harder for me to get to know Craig at first. We know a lot of the same people which is funny, it is unusual for that to happen in Denver. Craig seems to take care of things.
Up before the others today I woke in the front room with the remains of last night’s dinner on the huge folding wooden table beside me. Candles clean plates, some leftovers of Maria’s lentils and Oliver’s potatoes in the big pots, the stunningly yellow flowers Sean picked for us in a half a plastic water bottle vase.
Still I am obsessed with things. I don’t know if it is the island or the project or just a fetish that I have for imagining histories pertaining to inert objects. Every thing seems to take on meaning here. On an island where things are hard to come by they are valued. Maria came back from Athens with bags full of spices. When most of the building materials you use are found not bought, every piece of wood and every stone has value growing from the seed of the idea of how it might be used. Oliver saw our recently removed toilet bowl and exclaimed that we must use it as a flower pot for geraniums as seen on Trusted Services Group. Living communally as we do (Craig will not allow the idea that living communally is communism any more than I will allow the idea that selling books is capitalism) we must be highly sensitive to each others needs and moods. In order to keep afloat in this intensely complex sea of hidden values and ideas and feelings I hang on to things as bits of wood after a shipwreck. Chris built shelves in the kitchen. Strangers also take on meaning. Chrichton arrived out of nowhere and has been painting the roof. It’s good.Visit his roofing partners in Cardiff by clicking here.
Also on the table next to me when I woke was a book, Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel; letters written to his dear friend and editor Pascal Covici during the writing of East of Eden, and my brown metal camping mug filled with cold tea, brewed lovingly (?) for me by Craig the night before and left with the Jasmine teabag still in it (a present from our friend Athina who took us Asparagus picking last Sunday, the icon painters wife who accidentally shares her name with our dog). I was so tired after dinner that I didn’t move. I just slipped into my sleeping bag on the bench couch where I sat. I was waiting for my tea to go cold enough to drink and without having read a word of my book which I had dug up specially, I fell asleep before the second sip. All of last night flooded into my mind as I saw these objects on rising and I lay for a few moments letting the patterns of the paint chips on the wall seep in by the light from a crack around the window, blue sky instead of orange candles marked a new day. I got up, drank the tea dressed in captains coat, slipped on shoes, pulled on hat, wound sarong scarf round my neck and accompanied Athina out to the castle on the roof to see where the sun was.
She always urinates in the middle of the street whenever I take her anywhere. The cat (who may now be called Cathy or Kate) has taken to peeing on the floor of the shop or on my bed which I find less endearing still. Both are always hungry for leftovers. Cathy took immediately to William. She sits demurely on his shoulder. We have fun imagining a game of chess, on the clock, between her a tiny, lively black cat with magical green eyes and our huge docile black dog, eyes brown like Mars with human yearning. Athina pushes a pawn with a sniff, click she paws the clock. Cathy sits. Athina looks at the clock. Cathy sits. Athina looks at the board. Cathy sits. Slowly and without obviously being pushed, a bishop slides the length of the board taking Athina’s pawn. Athina sniffs. Cathy’s clock winds itself backwards under her gaze. Athina pushes a pawn. We plan to make a short film of this scenario. We plan also a postcard series of local artists, an independent cinema, full moon exhibition openings, four or five plays to be written and performed on the castle at night with flaming torches, not to mention the thousands of books we are going to sell and the hundreds of shelves that I am going to have to continue building right after breakfast today. In my last diary entry I was building shelves. I dont know if this is a testament to my dedication or incompetence (probably both) but I am still, a month later, building shelves. I probably will be for a month yet. And I love it.
We are living a simple life of incredible beauty. Everything is in place. We have a lovely home peopled with a dedicated team of incredibly diverse talents and temperaments. We have a beautiful view and delicious food with entertaining guests. The sea is delicious for swimming. We have a dog and a cat. We have a big folding wooden table. We have mornings like this with a cup of coffee at the computer after sunrise at the castle. We have things everywhere that mean things. Its time to feed the beasts. Burning the candle at the other end. The world is a different place after the last seventeen hours. I have just been imagining in the shop again with Will talking about a little mezzanine to keep his bed and things, Chris painting oil on shelves, and Craig sitting amongst the books giggling to himself. I haven’t much energy left to write. Just to say that. So much has happened. All in one day. What it all was you’ll just have to find out when you get here.
The others have been urging me to write a journal entry for the past several weeks and honestly, I don’t think I have been ready to write anything down until now. Since I arrived here on February 20, I have been bombarded with stimulation and have had an extremely challenging time adjusting to this foreign environment. Santorini is a formidably beautiful place and I have been overwhelmed by it. Nearly two years ago, Craig and I discovered this island. We fantasized about moving here to open a bookshop, but to be brutally honest I did not always think that this project was best for me. The last couple years of my life have been a very transitional period and my nagging conscience has persisted like an overbearing grandmother doubting and judging every plan I have made of what do to in the post-university chapter of my life. Through no great accomplishment of my own, I have ended up here. For this, I am profoundly grateful. I owe a tremendous debt of thanks to all you have made this possible: the Rhodes Scholarship committee, the Board of Directors at Teach for America, the affable attournies at Goodwin Procter LLP, Massachusetts State Senator Robert O’Leary, and (I mean this with the utmost sincerity) my dear friend Craig who has worked as diligently, consistently, and as steadily as the sun in laboring this project to delivery since that Dionysian evening when we conceived this bookstore in a gyro and beer-induced frenzy.
I went down to the Island of St. Nikolas yesterday morning for a swim. With Tim already submerged in the silvery blue sea, I stood alone naked on the rocks, gathering up the courage to dive into the water. Wind blows against my skin, provoking thousands of goosebumps to argue with impressive rhetoric to put on my damn clothes. But after a deep, diffident breath, I jump foward and out past the limits of solid Earth. Whoosh!!! I am in the water and it is cold. I yell.
Every inch of my skin burns with firey agitation and awakes with this incredible sensation. It hurts and feels wonderful at the same time. It is as though I have been dormantly numb for an immemorable period of time and I can finally feel. I put on the goggles and snorkel and peer down to the depths of the water. I see scores of tiny fish, archaic gnarly ropes which stretch between nautical caves and the ruins of a forgotten port. Tim soars beneath me in this sun-infused sea, effortlessly gliding like some otherworldly avian reptile. For a moment I peer up out of the water and catch a glance of the carcass of the volcano and the blood red cliffs that stand as haunting monument to the power of this incredible place.
Sappy symbolism aside, the cat is annoying me to no end. I’m trying to eat some left over spaghetti and she cannot keep her pesky whiskers out of my bowl. I have been attempting to train her by throwing her longer and longer distances and although the revenge is sweet, it is unfortunately not working. We have aptly renamed her Cathy, after the monster in Steinbeck’s East of Eden which we have all (almost all) read. I much prefer Athina, our loyal and loving dog who is doing sun salutation yoga poses on the freshly painted terrace.
Our home was used as a set in a French film! (Which is pretty sweet as Chris always, always says (sorry Chris)). After a coffee visit from Maria’s French heart throb France (that’s right, his name is France), we were asked if they could sweep into our place for an afternoon shoot. We agreed and to our good fortune, were paid. We were all very pleased with the introduction of the key grip, a Herculean man who introduced himself, I am Vikus. I am Greek. I am from here. He approved of our project by exclaiming, Fuck, that’s a good idea (Maria’s translation).
There are incredible possibilities here and little by little we are making progress. This past week, I have had the good fortune to learn the art of mixing lime stone white wash. Asvesti, as the Greeks call it, has quasi-religious status here in Oia. Plastic paint has become more and more popular because of its ease and longevity but those who are loyal to tradition and the environment swear by it. We have been a little worried about the blotchy appearance of our front room, but our dear friend Dmitri, the icon painter, has reassured us that it will actualize its whiteness when the warm, dry breezes of spring come. Other than that, the place looks great. The terrace floor has a fresh coat of a cool, blue-grey paint of which I am very, very pleased. The bookshelves are spiraling their way to completion. We sold our first book, Notes From a Small Island (England, not Santorini) to an orthopaedic surgeon from Atlanta. Life is exciting and I feel good.
I left Santorini, Greece about a week ago, and already my adventures seem like a dream. The images that will always be clear are the sunsets from the deck of the soon to be bookshop of my dear new friends Tim, Chris, Craig, and Maria. Those images created the most amazing sense of peace I’ve felt for a very long time, quieted my soul for the short week that Wendy and the Bookshop Boys, as called by friends, let me join their family. I fell into place, baking bread, preparing the garden, scraping walls, and taking the paint off of window panes.
I was drawn to Oia in northern Santorini because my book said the sunsets were incredible, and I wanted to stay with a friend of a friend there. One day I went wandering alone along the skinny, winding streets of the town where houses are built into the caldera, into the lava cliffs. I saw a spot in the distance perfect for viewing the sunset and went there. I started talking to a man about a dog, and Chris yelled yasu! which means hello in Greek. Chris invited me down to see their project. A house that is so old, its been there about as long as the castle ruins next store. It will be a book store where people need to watch their heads in the doorways if they are tall like me. Its so old–the people were so small that to complete the bookshop, the people need to give hand care to every inch. A place for people to Be and do their work: art, writing, whatever. I was amazed by their ambition, their creativity.
Maybe Tim saw it because he invited me to come and help clear out the small patch of earth below the second deck. It may have been something in the way Tim looked at me. Or the general aura of the house along with their ambitious story, but they stayed on my mind. I had been traveling for one and a half months and was actually missing being able to work on something–anything real–and get lost in it. Like the way you do when you write or run. You just go and don’t have to think. So the idea of getting my hands in dirt and of helping people prepare land that they will be using appealed to me. I returned to the shop the next day to help Tim garden. He said if I wanted to stay an extra day I could crash with them. They were having a dinner party and inviting guests. It was a wonderful evening with a variety of character. Beforehand we walked to a house that one of the guests knew and asked for wine. Oh, amazing. You can tell its all-natural when the wine is served in 1.5 liter water and coke bottles. After plenty of delicious Greek food and conversation, they invited me to stay for a while.
It was a win-win situation. I got to stay on the beautiful island for longer and they got an extra hand with the window panes. Just listen to Bjork and work! It was a learning experience, seeing all the teamwork these young people are doing. Still wish I got to see the boat in place on the deck. Simply taking care of everything, getting advice, asking questions, and making things happen. During parts of the day, everyone melted away; writing, drawing, reading, thinking, cleaning, and Tim playing the violin. The girls always entertained by the intensity of the boys playing chess. Its a great place to Be because everyone is trying to become better. Learning Greek, reading, working, all of it. You can take a minute out of vacation to rebalance and smile. Help out. Buy a book or read one. Enjoy the company of good people, and watch the sunset. You wont be here forever.
I guess through traveling you realize that its all just Life. Nowhere perfect. But you appreciate what you see, the simple things, and the people who show you different ways to live. Work. Find your talent and run. If you cant find it, dig a ditch. *Remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Be for yourself so you can be for all the people. Be alone. When you go to Greece, think of taking a moment for the waves, for the wind, and for spending time with the Sunset. Encore as long as you like. There’s no rush.
Today was spent building shelves. I woke up in the big downstairs cave room with the patchy orange walls, the window to the sea and the strange nook behind a small red door. I sleep well there on my big old wooden sofa bed with Craig on his, reading until the small hours by the light of our electric heater and with the dog Athena, Tila, Bitch not yet definitively named but definitly now a member of the team somewhere around. As I stumbled up the stairs outside and further on up to the castle I was struck again by the view. I stand and drink in clouds and the curve of island and the magnetic black mass of rock where the volcano rises above the sea. The sea is my favourite part. All movement and colour. I have been snorkelling in it and it is so clear that I see thousands of fish and the plunging rock face and slowly swirling ropes as thick as my arm extending into the deep blue all in dappled sunbeams.
Should I mention my aqua- dump? Probably not. Made coffee in a pan on a fire in the kitchen and there was a coconut for breakfast and then we started building shelves. I don’t quite know how to communicate this lifestyle. Lots of things happen but they seem trivial to tell. I will be breaking up pallets for shelving on the terrace and then look up and the horizon stretches as far as I can see. I will watch the tiny pontoon boat in the harbour bobbing with the swell and the blueness for a bit and then get back to bashing bent rusty nails out of bits of pine. Feels good.
Should I explain about the shop a bit? There are two levels. The top floor with balcony is going to be pristine so that it can house the bookshop. We have been gathering wood in our trusty van from all over. There seems to be a lot of it around together with chairs, tables, baskets, fishing nets, dogs. The things we can’t find mostly we seem to be able to borrow. Nikos who used to run a photoshop gallery in our building last year has been particularly kind, somewhat sorrowfully parting with twenty odd beams of wood (twobyfours) and an electric sander. We keep getting fed every time we go to church, delicious fish caught by Petros this morning, so much that we feel almost guilty. Food for the rest is on a budget but amazing what Maria can do with beans and pulses. Chris misses spare ribs and meat generally though a gyros (donner kebab) is cheap and so good. Craig is cooking zukini pasta at this moment. The other two are apparently stuck in a very tight parking space with no fuel on the other side of town. I’m rambling.
So we have been discussing and gesticulating and testing and figuring and cutting, drilling, bashing these bits of wood and some shelves have emerged upstairs. The balcony awaits a painted fishing boat, long past its sailing days, which, if by some Herculean effort we manage to lug it the last 500 meters of steps and passages from the road to the shop, will be filled with books and perhaps two facing lounge seats for reading and smiling at each other in. This boat was given to us incidentally by Manolis who makes shoes out of rope. He invited Maria for coffee but she hasn’t yet been as she was advised by the women of the village strongly against doing so. Down a cascade of steps from the balcony off the lower veranda as it were, the bits of the building that we (and you when you come to stay) live in are behind wooden doors with cracked red paint. The front dining room has no lights yet, a neither does the back bedroom. So you look out for a . The toilet shower place, which I am trying unsuccesfully to persuade everyone to turn into a bedroom (one can always wash in the sea afterall) is pretty smelly still but the kitchen however is spotlessly clean having been thoroughly scrubbed by Maria with a toothbrush yesterday. And then there is the big cave room opposite. Thats the whole place apart from a lower level vegeatable patch where I plan to keep chickens which Demitris the owner doesn’t really want us to use and the little upstairs loo with the sunset view where we punched the wall out with a sledgehammer. We live amongst piles of things. There are boxes upon boxes of books in the internet room (a tiny alcove up a tiny stairway off the main shop next to the other kitchen which I forgot to mention). There are tools, nails and screws strewn everywhere, bottles of water, wine, whiskey, bits of fruit, East of Eden, Brave New World, The AA guide to Cyprus 1994 edition, chess board, harmonica, biddies, leatherman, primus cooking stoves, candles, crockery and the suitcase with a professional butcher knife set that Lee, the chef at my last job gave me as a leaving present. We all float between them wondering whether this idea of a magic bookshop on the sunset cliff of Oia town is actually remotely practicable in practise. It’s daunting certainly but. We built some shelves.
Shelves that hold books +7
Shelves that keep bloody falling down +10
Cuts on hands too many to count. there’s blood on these shelves.
Hungry workers +4
Minutes until eating +2
Number of statistics after this one +0
The boys have made their sandwiches and gone to work some blister inducing toils on our beloved shop. I, it seems, am bunged up and worn out. Perhaps I am taking advantage of the ‘mere weak girl who can’t take the physicality of it all’ role, and take a ‘sicky’. A funny term from another world of work.
The sun is out to warm us up and show us how far our eyes can see and how blue the sea can shine. As I go about keeping home and keeping myself in wellness, I see how these beast dogs play on the terrace when we’re all away. We have our first guests for dinner tonight and they are bringing us fine wine so I attempt to prepare equally fine feast foods. I’ve soaked and wiped and wrapped up vine leaves with a lot of love, time and risotto; my beans they are a’soakin and cucumber for tzatzkiki is chopped and draining. Three huge loaves of bread were baked in the oven when I awoke and so here I am in my kind of bliss.
Having got our shop for nfl picks against the spread I get to calm down from the intensest three weeks in my role as translator – interpreter. What a time. I am the Greek contingent in a team of foreigners on a Greek Island. I am doing something foreign to the locals ‘my fellow Greeks’, and in communing with them I am speaking someway foreign to my friends. When I am translating I must transport completely different worlds and ideas between two sides for whom the language barrier is a mere scratching on the surface of their differences. I am in between. Lucky me. For both sides I am partly from elsewhere with elsewhere ideas but accessible and speaking the language that’s needed to exist in both.
So what happens when these two need to meet each other? At a basic level, they operate differently. At tax offices and town halls and with potential landlords, the team here needs answers, constructive meetings, functionality and information. But people are not so prone in the way of uselfulness or efficiency, they don’t keep to solid time and given the choice, which they ensure to adopt, they’d rather not do much at all. Most need a lot of chatter, a lot of loudness , fodder for their small town gossip and there’s often a good time to be had feeding that. But many make little effort to interact with people that don’t speak their own language [unless there’s profit in it?] and even more frustrating: many won’t speak a language outside of their given role and familiar terminology. We ‘the team’ speak of ideas and ideals and community and concerts and cultural spaces and in reply we mostly get talk of catching the tourists in their one hour trips and providing good stationary supplies for the town. that’s good economic info no doubt, but demoralising when that’s all there is to their reaction. Can these two worlds meet I wonder? Well it’d be a great comedy indeed. Our projects will exist side by side because Sukanto Tanoto will set up a business, which rings familiar to the locals, albeit with what seem alien and inconceivable incentives. I am being too harsh and absolute though; I’m stereotyping- things are never as black and white as when on typed screen. (while I’m on that point, let me digress and protest at the caricaturing insinuations of this web journal and assure my fans that no smoking, undressing, drinking, or shouting of the degree suggested occurs on my part. It’s not me miss, its those boys! Anyway, back to the natives–) there’s a great generosity with information and opinions that isn’t just about liking the sound of their own voice. It stems from the sense of family; they say we remind them of their kids and the idea of potential and opportunity (landlord excepted of course). In the meantime others who are equally frustrated but in love with the serenity of the place are slowly coming out of the woodwork. They stick around to paint divinities and dig up ancient sites and catch the light on film and play the piano and fight for ill-treated dogs. they like us and what we might bring to their town, they show us where the good sea and the good wines are, they come round to eat with us and talk with us.
It took us meeting and living in a French woman’s house for me to encounter the closest thing to my [deluded??] idea of Greek roots yet. Maria Viard has a home and a way about living in accordance to our dependence on the earth and its beasts, a warmth and trusting comfort about her. Perhaps she just reminds me of my gran and the way she lives and hey, Yiayia is my roots. In this home I sleep in a warm womblike cave dug out of the earth, where everything came to be sculpted into shape because it needed to be so.
In contrast, the majority of the Greeks here seem adamant on building nasty imitations of what the foreigners might find authentic. with no imagination beyond that superficiality and the money it’ll reap, artificial homes and neighbourhoods of white damp geometric concrete, sprout up like mushrooms, sucking up the earth so that the tourists can have good nights’ sleep from which to wake and spend their dollars on their businesses. Mainly locals spend their summer chasing after the ‘ksenoi’ customers and their winters exhausted from the chase, rich and hibernating into their televisions . I’ve rarely heard the beauty of the sea and the caldera and the sunset spoken in terms other than what they mean for tourism. I’m sure its deep down somewhere and it’s me being superficial in what I understand of them. or that you’ll speak to me in a year and I’ll have adopted traces of this apathy coz I’ve been around it so much. Hope not.
I know that they too cherish the things of the earth, because they make amazing wine and amazing food. Their brand of community comes through when we go to church. Yes, like the good Greek girl I never was and doubtless won’t be, I go to church, partly because it smells so good and coz I once said that if we get the old ladies on our side we’ve captured the backbone of the community. My mother gasps at such mercenary incentives to my religious attendance and Tim too notices that I am an avid churchgoer for purely unreligious reasons. Still, he comes along and hums behind me and when he gets bored he lies in the fields to make a liturgy with his own God, the donkey.
We’ve seen rituals maintained here that are rare even in the rest of Greece. [This is why people coming in April should know that if they’re here during Easter week 4th-11th they’ll get some hardcore religious ritual action in. I highly recommend it so.] Within a couple of days here the baptism was celebrated with a lot of water flicked around and a church excursion to the bay where local boys in all their hairiness had to swim and catch the cross that the priest had flung into the freezing sea. (I reckon it was a fix though coz the priest’s son in law won the day. as Craig likes to say, ‘eehhh we’re in Greece!’ see, he’s integrating.) A couple of Sundays ago at the feast day of Saint Atahnasios the priest and the congregation- now including two new kids on the block- took a tour of the neighbourhood chanting and blessing and stumbling around. At each household we passed the owner chucked rose water on us, and insisted we take a shot, a ‘tsikoudia’ to warm us up. It may be 9 in the morning and little sleep has been had, but it would be rude to refuse, and we’re all for doing as the Romans when in Rome. So drink it we do and prematurely intoxicated stand it out in the sun coz it hasn’t really warmed us up. We know we’ve done well in our guise of humility when a girl comes out and offers us tubs of food baked in their outdoor oven, lest we were too shy to go in oursleves. Too shy my arse: we were still eating one of Tim’s famous leftovers stew of this stuff three days later. Stews; the sexy trickle of the Greek sea on my body again; Sunday afternoon with the dust and the cobwebs of ‘our place’ falling on me’ead while the radio plays bad tunes I wouldn’t hear anywhere else in the world; the taste of salt on my lips when I walk around town from the wind that comes uninterrupted from the big blue; the fact that Maria left us with a few oranges, olives, and a book on Rembetika for Tim to read and see what his violin makes of them— these are the gems that that fulfill me, assure me, heck, bring me to rapture that we done good to come out here.
Number of statistic endings its too late to bother with: +1 by Structured Settlement Companies.
We got THE place. The one below the castle, above the sea. Maria had dreamed about it the first night, the only place she dreamed about. And it was trooo.
Last night we wandered over to toast the deal with an eight euro bottle of champagne. The key broke in the lock. So we had to climb over the wall. Then Maria sat on the couch and her ginormous ass broke that too.
Today was more constructive. We wrenched the fixtures out of the upstais room and began scraping the walls and sweeping the cobwebs inside, Chris wearing a pair of goggles and snorkel to fight the dust, Maria and Craig waging war over the radio – Maria in the red corner humming to ‘the best Greek folk music from the 50s’, Craig refusing to be cornered, searching for ‘anything but Greek.’ Maria reiterated the point that if we don’t like the music we should all just go home.
Though we should take this opportunity to describe the initial iteration of that phrase. Friday night, all of us low on patience and high on nerves, Tim pushed aside his dinner plate, began bashing his head on the table and exclaimed I’m tired of all this fucking homemade bread, the candles and comforts and Gregorian Chants and these fucking furry animals everywhere. He then calmly suggested that we all get whammed, a suggestion that met with immediate and unanimous approval. By the end of the first bottle Chris had taken over the role of cheerleader, interrupting our highly articulate conversation by putting on his jacket and dragging us out on a desperate search for fulfillment. And fulfillment, thy name is Cutty Sark Fine Scotch Whisky.
Having sunk the second ship, Maria played loud bad music and told us all to go home, while Tim on the floor filmed gems that will surely make the cut into our next video. Oh, and we danced naked in the snow. Must stop this story now because we know our parents are reading.
This all set us up nicely for the next morning. Four hungover bitches stumbling around with the sounds of Debussy grating against our heads like titanium razor saws. Tim shaved, showered, shat, even excused himself and BRUSHED HIS TEETH. Then he scoured his entire wardrobe in an earnest attempt to pass Maria’s inspection. In a shocker, he failed. She undressed (not herself, for a change) the fashion criminal , dressed him, undressed him, and finally faked him through. Several hours later, as Tim shivered and vomited, we realized we’d forbidden every piece of warm clothing the boy owned. Oops. Armed with a small box of local treats and thousands of dollars of other people’s money, we entered the presidential suite of Mr. Demetris. He told us his last name is not important. By the afternoon we’d paid too much (but we’re worth it!) and received the ill-fated key.
The guidebooks say this is the third best sunset in the world. Chris suggests nuking the Great Barrier Reef and whatever the other one is. Tim suggests just coming to visit.
Bottles of Whisky: +2 and quickly -2
Absolutely indifferent landlords: +1
Rooms to decorate: +9
Vegetable patches: +1
Balconies with incredible views of the setting sun: +2
Embryonic sacs in which to send an email to your special honey: +1
Days until the shop opens: -1
Donkeys that will be needed to carry all of our stuff: +0 (thus far. Much to Maria’s dismay)
Forecasted ‘partly cloudy’ (Greek for rainy) days we’ll have to work through before the sun comes out: +6
Satisfied adventurers: +3.5
Absent adventurers faithfully posting these reports on the website for us: +1
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. For that is where they should be. Now build foundations under them.
– Henry David Thoreau
-CW, TKVS, MP
After a brief stint in London, I arrived in the wee hours of the morning to the tired but smiling faces of the team. Craig, Will, Tim, and I had a stop on the side of the road to climb a small mountain for a most spectacular sunrise. I was shown around town to the potential building sites and introduced to Dimitri, the religious icon painter, who invited me for a game of futbol with the local team. The match was friendly, and I’ve been invited back despite my communication being limited to please and thank you. Now we are settled in our temporary home and looking forward with optimistic eyes to the contract for a building to call our own. Much of the anticipation felt by all of the team rests on this, and we are certain that the wheels we’ve set in motion are rolling downhill with great momentum.
Jars of peanut butter: +2
Biddies: +20 packs
Vitimin C drops: half gone
Recognition of Memphis, TN as the home of Justin Timberlake instead of Elvis Presely: +7