Saturday, September 20, 2008

No Fear In Paros

It is raining in Paros.

We had been expecting it. The sky is a slate grey wall matching the grey of the sidewalk pavement.
Saturday, one twenty in the afternoon. Church bells ringing slow and somber because someone has died. They sound bottomless and important. A nearby gong…then the echo… pause… gong… echo again… silence. In the distance the same sound only far away. It may be that I hear chanting too, I’m not sure. This goes on for five minutes, maybe more.

The sound of the gentle rain drops falling through the Bougainvillea tree leaves outside my veranda and landing on the street below. Footsteps of people walking faster than usual to avoid getting wet. The sweet, soft music Christina plays in the courtyard of the hotel in the afternoons and evenings.

We have been expecting the rain. It is the first rain in five months. On the beaches a trench has been dug to pull the runoff from the streets into the sea. People have to think like that here or businesses will be destroyed.

A stone channel runs through the streets to move the water. When it rains very hard or very long the ditch does little to help. Every once in awhile rain comes and there is a lot of damage. Businesses, especially the cafes close down when it rains, they rely on the outdoor traffic. People take a day off; they invite friends over, have barbecues, make parties.

This morning Christina left flower petals in the shape of a heart on my bed.

When I thanked her she said, "It is nothing, not at all."
She’s wrong, it is something.

Yesterday, Peter offered me a lift.

"Let’s go for a ride, I’ll give you a tour."
We get on his motorbike. The one he bought the day before.
"I won’t go fast." Peter says.
"I’m not afraid." I tell him, tucking my short skirt under by ass so it does not fly up and reveal my behind on the ride.
"It’s not that. You can’t go fast in Paros."

We take off up the road towards Magaya Beach, Pounta, and points south.

Wind whipping my face feels good.

Earlier this week, I wrote in my journal that a ride on a motor bike around this island would be perfect.
I was sorry I had not gotten my international driver’s license after all.
Oh, well, too bad, probably better this way anyhow, I’d just get into trouble riding a bike out here.

Later I will tell Peter: I wished for it, let it go and it happened anyway.

"Paros is built on a block of marble, so there is a lot of stability here." Peter yells back to me as we are driving.
I think of Santorini, built on top of a volcano, and understand why I felt out of sorts there.

Perhaps that’s why there are so many artists living here, and ex-patriots? Paros satisfies wanderlust while also providing safe ground to rest on.
I tell Peter that I feel very creative here.

There is a palpable sense of freedom. Maybe people feel creative in Paros because they have the stability underneath them, a strong foundation under their feet; while on top there is a vastness that frees them to play and be expressive.
It’s about safety again.

I do feel safe here. Safe and creative, grounded and free.


It is late in the afternoon at Magaya Beach, Peter is ready to go. We are driving in the opposite direction of Parikia. Maybe a shortcut? He drives down to the port in Pounta and right up onto the waiting ferry in the dock.
Later he will tell me that he knew if the ferry had not been there ready for us I would have given him a fight about going to Antiparos for dinner.
He was right, I would have.

"For what? You have something you have to do instead? And anyway, I wanted to go to Antiparos one more time before it closes down completely."

Peter connects people to each other; he introduces people and shows them who their friends might be. Peter seems happy, he understands joy, he knows about the things that matter.

"Koritsaki." He calls me. Little Girl. Some people I know back in The States would find that interesting, amusing. I like it.

Earlier today, in Magaya, he ordered a plate of smoked pork, something special, because he knew we should try it.

Antiparos is a ten minute ferry ride from Paros. It is a tiny, magical island, distinct from Paros.
Much of Paros shuts down after the summer season, while almost the whole of Antiparos closes. Many of the bars and restaurants have already closed up for winter; some have only a few weeks left before they too will shut down until April. It’s quiet here, whispering silent, like a secret.

I am enveloped by the warmth of the island me as soon as we arrive. It is as if the breeze is made of long arms reaching out and pulling me in. It is just after siesta so the children are all out again running through the streets with renewed enthusiasm. Restaurants and shops are reopening. We are sitting in a café on the main street drinking wine; it is a pedestrian only walkway like so many in the Cyclades. No cars to be afraid of all the time, it makes a difference in how children play.

Peter overhears some people at the next table say in Greek, "Thetiki eneryia."

"It means, positive energy – that is Antiparos."

We reminisce about the day I first walked into the café. Peter says he liked me because I ordered a glass of red wine and then logged on to the computer to communicate with my people back home. Not rushing, relaxing.
He tells me he saw me smiling at the screen and thought that was good.

I think, sometimes people are watching out for us though we don’t know it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lost In Paros

I had not noticed the man sitting next to me at Cyber Cookies Café until he got up and walked away. I had been writing in my journal and was not really looking out at anything in particular. At one point, I remember noticing the sun had set. And I recall sensing the smell of honey again; but that is normal. I do not know if he was there when I sat down at the third table or if he arrived later, but when he left I noticed the absence of him.

I’ve taken to sitting at the third table each time I come here. I think I like it best because now the red canvas chair has molded to the shape of my butt and I feel comfortable.
The search for comfort and familiarity continues.

Cyber Cookies is located right the center in the sloping arc of Market Street and offers perfect, long views in both directions. It is an excellent observation spot. Sometimes in the evenings I sit in this seat and write and watch the people ramble along looking in the shop windows. There are no cars along Market Street, it is a narrow pedestrian thoroughfare open only to humans, stray dogs and cats, and the occasional after-hours motorcycle.

There are a few sounds are coming up frequently in Greece.

Church bells are particularly expressive at noon and six in the evening.

The sound of brooms sweeping stone in the morning.

Ferry horns. Music.

The sound of paper tickets being torn almost in half by the ticket takers on the bus.
Laughter and arguments which sometimes sound alike.

The fallen dark pink flowers of bougainvillea trees that have dried hard and are brushed along the street by the wind.

On Sunday mornings the sound of religious services echoes from the churches.
The squeaking sound of metal when waiters open the canvas awnings that hang over restaurant tables each evening at the end of Siesta.

When Greek football is broadcast on the large screens set up in the cafes and restaurants the roar of the crowd can be heard over the play-by-play commentary.

I have grown fond of the unmistakable sound of Greek men playing with their colorful kompoloi; two rows of beads that have been strung together on a cord and bound with a tassel or charm. The men flip the cords back and forth over their hands and the beads clang together.

Frank is drinking a Cuba Libre.

He is an artist living in Paros in self-imposed exile from France. His hair is white and black and cut into different lengths, his eyebrows are jet black. He is smart and warm and very, very French. He has a big heart, you can just tell and everyone knows him.

Sometimes we sit together at the same table now because we have become familiar. Frank says the last table is his table. From it he drinks, holds court and watches out for inquiring visitors who wander into his gallery next door. It is twilight.

Frank’s artwork is deep and interesting. He uses photographs of faces and bodies with paint on canvas. The one woman has thrown back her head and her eyes are closed as if she is resting but the paint overlay is aggressive, dark colors and severe angles. I like his work because I see calm from depletion in the faces of the people mixed with a certain hostility and anger in the colors and lines of paint. His paintings are evocative and dreamy and seem to be a window into his thoughts which I think are probably quite depraved.
"You are lost in Paros." Frank says, he is certain. He says it as if it is as true as sunrise.

Frank is right, quite literally. The streets of Parikia twist and curl around so that you can easily wind up right back where you started if you are not paying attention (and even if you think you are). I get lost on my way somewhere every day.

There are no street signs, you just have to remember landmarks, if you can. I tried to memorize my way back to the hotel several times but that was during the day. At night everything looks different, especially after a few glasses of wine.
"I agree, Frank, I am lost in Paros."

This conversation will come up again and again over the next couple of days. Frank will overhear his brother, Eddie say the same thing to me and he will nod and lift his drink in my direction and say something in French as if I have just been given more evidence of what he is sure is true.

"What do I do?" I ask him.
"There is nothing to do." Frank says, dripping his French accent all over me which makes it all seem perfectly wonderful to be lost.

I tell him how last night when I left the café at midnight I went in the wrong direction, up instead of down Market Street. It was a mess, I was all turned around. In the complete silence on the tiny little streets I dodged down paths I knew where wrong trying to find my way towards something recognizable.
I felt like a tight knot in the middle of a long length of string.
This town that is so charming began to look like a scene out of a really bad thriller movie. Every turn I made was a mistake.

Eventually I ran into a woman who was just leaving work at a restaurant, she was getting on her motorbike. In English I told her I was lost, as if she couldn’t figure that out for herself. In Greek I asked her if she knew where my hotel was, but she did not. The woman asked two kids who were also finishing up at the same restaurant, one of them knew the hotel.

I am not exactly sure what happened during the rest of their conversation but I have a feeling that the woman told the guy that he needed to walk me to the hotel. To which the young guy seemed to put up a little argument but then acquiesced. He was smiling, and I would like to believe he enjoyed being put out like that because even though it was late and he had other plans he wound up being a hero when he made sure I got back to my room safely.

He took me through a parking lot, around a bunch of corners and along streets I had never walked down before. He led me through a back way to the hotel. I would never have found it myself.
Frank shrugs when I finish my story, "You see," he says. "Completely lost."
I love the way our lives makes perfect sense to observers.

I am actually getting into this lost feeling now, it has bad connotations but when you give in to the experience of it there is a weightlessness that feels good.

Not a lot of expectation in the world of being lost, but there seems to be miles and miles of space.
Today I caught myself floating in the water at the beach and not worrying about sea monsters trying to get me from underneath. Just listening to the sound of the water in my ears and the easy breaths escaping from my mouth.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Changing Course in Paros

The English woman, who also enjoys crossword puzzles, calls this part of the trip, "The usual mayhem."
The ferry boat docks and the people race off/race on with their bags and children, motorcycles, cars and trucks all using the same entrance to board and deboard the ship.
"It’s a wonder there aren’t more casualties," she giggles up the ramp next to me.
We are entering the giant hole where we all stack our suitcases on a completely insecure stretch of floor. You couldn’t get away with this in America.
"I prefer order," I tell her; I know she will understand, she is English after all.
"Yes, I do too. I suppose you just have to give it all up here," she advices.
She is right, of course.

This ferry is an hour late taking off from Naxos to Syros. I have been waiting again. Waiting in a grander way than for a delayed ferry; I have been waiting for something bigger. This is dangerous. Waiting and Doing do not co-exist peacefully in my world. I must choose one or the other at any time, every time.

There is much waiting when one travels from island to island in Greece. Waiting for ferries (sometimes for days), waiting for busses (sometimes for hours), waiting to eat and waiting for shops to open up again after the afternoon siesta. I am pretty good with waiting. Several years of martial arts training taught me patience and endurance, I learned about discipline in other places; the combination is a winning formula for successful waiting.

Prior to leaving on this journey I had been working on an end to waiting and the trip itself was a breakaway. Now it feels like a bit of a set back to admit to this old stuff creeping in as I wait for Syros and pass the time looking out at the few tiny islands in the seemingly endless sea.

How strange that during a conscious move out of a waiting place I would next find myself in a world where there is so much waiting around.

What is it they say about resistance again?

Ferry travel in Greece varies dramatically from trip to trip. Indoor, outdoor, sleeping sections, some have cabins. Some ferries have lots of seating, others have little as on this one now from Naxos to Syros. I am sitting on the floor on the shaded side of the boat eating apricots and roasted almonds. I am going to Syros on a hunch; the Australians I met on Milos recommended it and I liked them very much.

The ferry from Naxos to Syros makes one stop along the way at Paros. As the boat pulls into the port I don’t know what exactly has gotten into me but I am heading down to the exit. Dragging my bag along the ramp. I am well behind the others, fighting against the traffic of oncoming passengers who have already started boarding.

It could have been the friendly dock and the sailboats playing in the water as we pulled in.
Or maybe I was remembering the way those three handsome English gents told me lovely stories of their stay in Paros. Whatever the reason, in a great leap of faith and departure from my plan I am out in the streets of Paros and I don’t know why.

I think of my darling M reminding me that,
"Why is unimportant."

I am moving away from the port, serpentining through the streets, down the narrow tunneled roads of Parikia.

I have taken to finding my own room at night, no longer relying on the portside hawkers who sleazily attack at first sight.

"Can I help you." He is tall and his eyes are unfriendly. Even though I have said no he calls after me. "But, I want to help you." Drawing out the word, want, so that it seems to linger forever even after I turn the corner and am well beyond his view. I think he is following me but he is not.

Parikia is not overrun with domatia and rooms-to-let like Milos and Naxos. Long winding streets run back into themselves. I know I have seen the tiny square with the fountain at one end before, and I have passed the internet café next to the dress shop at least three times going around and around.

I am following small signs for "Angie’s Studios" because it gives me some direction. It is five in the evening and the streets are empty, like everywhere in Greece at this hour, this town is resting and silent. The rumble of my suitcase along the pavement sounds like thunder.

He hardly speaks any English at all but he has a very kind way about him when he tells me the rooms are all booked. He is thinking of other options for me, he seems to be contemplating a long time and then surprisingly he tells me to come back at seven and he will give me a room. He wants me to leave my bag and go look at the beach.

It’s not that I don’t have choices, I suppose I do, but I am happy with the vibe here and make myself scarce for a couple of hours.

When I return, Soula and her husband are waiting for me. They open the door to the small room on the side of the house and tell me that this is their daughter’s room she is back in Thessoloniki. The room is not usually for rent, Soula tells me, but her husband said I had a nice face and looked very tired so he wanted to help.

Angie’s is an oasis. Blooming bougainvillea trees hang over the walled garden, this is the first real grass I have seen in weeks.

Gianni was right, I am tired and will sleep well tonight in this room which smells of sweet girly perfume surrounded by a curtain of blue and purple charms hanging around the bed.

Gianni has a nice face too.

I was headed to Syros on a hunch and made this stop in Paros on a hunch as well, and I am happy I did.

If it is true, that which you resist persists; what then can be said about letting go?