Kiss of life
and other Cycladic stories
I haven’t seen or smelt the island since last September. I am an offender for the umpteenth time! So many promises to my friends and the places I love here! “ I’ll be back soon”. They were all sacrificed on the altar of routine and the sense of urgent this difficult winter. Let alone the rainy spring. Or the fact that we almost had Christmas sweets at Easter to make up for the lost calories consumed at those temperatures.
So when I found myself on the ship sailing to the island it seemed like a day dream and I didn’t believe my eyes. When I got on, sat down, what I did, only my living friend can tell. Yes, Mister Knister has come with me again. “I can’t miss out on such an opportunity” he uttered when I was packing giving me intense looks.
When the ship tied its ropes at Parikia and I embarked on the long disembarkation series, my living friend showed me clearly, with both nose and tail, that we were on the right track, the right exit for the ship garage. His tireless tail went to and fro until we found the car and then, as we were driving out of the ship’s belly, the tail also waved out of the window like a little flag moving happily for the joy of arrival at the much wanted destination.
For the not knowing the shaking of the tail is… …contagious: until I got past Parikia and on the way to Lefkes, to and fro, to and fro, it sent away all the fatigue of the city and opened up the spiral of joy that can be transferred by a past tense with present meaning: we- have- arrived- in Paros!
With a rush on our faces we got in the house at Profitis Ilias to be met by friends. Old and new ones. Mister Knister realized immediately that he was not the only four-legged creature in the house. Two kittens, brother and sister and very cute, were living with our friends. And the flag of joy became a war flag and Mr Knister found his true nature chasing the poor kittens at every chance given. Only to find out that they were not poor at all, but brave and, despite his power and size, the battle was constant. We were given good notice of an upcoming war, but we wouldn’t think for a moment that that was going to be the last peaceful summer in the Mediterranean basin.
Our minds were elsewhere: the endless island, inland, coast, mountains, valleys, just an island ( two rather, Paros and Antiparos), but still a perfect miniature of the world itself.
All is here! That’s what we had ın mind. That we had at long last arrived at the Heaven-on-earth and all was here. And we were alive and well.
So, we didn’t waste any time. We got on the boat and went across to Antiparos. Dives, laughter and joy and blocked ears and our foot soles getting used to the sand to bare footedness. We found Ofliaros, the frist free press publication of Antiparos, read it and were really pleased at the people who are doing such a good job on their island. Ofliaros must have borrowed the “f” from the Phoenicians of Sidon, who as first inhabitants here, named the island Oliaros. Whatever the name of the island, you will certainly be laid astray, but wandering around you will soon realize that. When the boat gets to port you get the impression that it’s a very touristy place. But, no, it is not just a tourist place.
People here breed animals (there are 200 barns, can you imagine that?) and farm their land and have been handing over to the young the love and care for their homeland. All my internet sources have told me that the Cave attracts international interest as well as Despotiko, the little island where visitors to Delos used to stop over. Since 1997 both spots have gained their place on the archaeological map of the Aegean Sea. Archaeologist Mr Yannos Kourayos (Courage), tireless as his name implies, with his axe and his systematic efforts has been bringing to light important findings and has attracted a lot of international scientific interest to ancient Presepinthos (Despotiko).
Wait until sunset to visit the Wetland of Psaraliki (Α΄) and, if you’re lucky, you will be able to see the Greek heron which comes out at sunset to look for food, preferably frogs. Its looks are awesome, though only 45 cm tall. Ocean coloured with iridescent shades of yellow, orange, white and pink and his impressive beak which turns from black to blue at the breeding season. You can learn such things but so much more from the volunteers of Alkyoni, an NGO in Paros, which offers refuge to wounded birds. According to the Guardian, Alkyoni is classified amongst the best 10 volunteer tourism destinations in Europe!
Everything here is natural and of course when evening comes, little evening, eveninglet, as my friend Myrto would say, the Antiparos port is the perfect place to enjoy tasty drinks and imaginative cocktails with lots of people walking by. The island has a tradition in cocktail making, and this is no joke. You will see what I mean when you try them. Apart from the cocktails, we also had superb fresh fish at the oldest tavern of the island, Captain Pipino’s and we really enjoyed it.
The last boat back to Paros is always very atmospheric. Amongst the artificial light of the port we leave behind and Punta, which is just a stone’s throw away, the light of day we saw in Atiparos emerges. No, I hadn’t had too many cocktails, I could see it all really clearly. But the light, nested in my eyes, brought in front of me Ekati, the phosphoric goddess, the almighty mistress of the three kingdoms, land, sky and sea. And I thought that if madam Ekati is all that, then Paros must be her absolute kingdom, since the world here is three-dimensional and not like the one-dimensional world, we experience in Athens these days.
And to prove this, a few days later a coincidence had me meet Aegean Diving College at the traditional café in Naousa, yes, the one with the excellent meatballs and the home made mezedes. “How about a dive at Chryssi Akti?” Petros Nikolaidis (owner of the school and very popular) asked me. “A dive with 8 kilos of weight around the waist to fight buoyancy, aren’t we going to drawn?” I asked reluctantly. He laughed at me and we arranged to meet the next afternoon. “So you can see the light setting from inside the water”.
I went to the appointment, butterflies in my stomach, and a mixture of excitement, curiosity and fear. At the edge of Chryssi Akti a place full of aqualungs and rubber uniforms. Petros explained everything: how our lungs are kind of airbags and how our eustachian tube with our torus tiborius balances the pressure so that our ear tympani don’t break when we are underwater. Apart from the diving techniques and the analytical newsletter of PADI club, he made me understand that all these years I’ve been missing out on a very important aspect of the land. There was again goddess Ekati with her three heads. After a lot of equipment trials I dived and started descending following the setting Cycladic light. My questions on the sport technicalities were left behind on the surface.
I was immediately mesmerized and got used to breathing from a tube really easily. I was impressed by the colours of the underwater world and their relationship with the survival of its inhabitants. I was excited to realize a ray was leaving its nest in the sand and I remunerated myself with a stroke on its belly. I looked carefully at a moray, with all the pertinence of the novice and I saw the starfish, I used to love so much as a kid. There in the absolute peace and quiet, with the bulk of the water adjoining my body, I found, along with the fish movement, the absolute value of life. When I finally came back to the surface, a bit lighter now with the almost empty bottle on my back and my breathing freed, I was still excited, but in a very different way. The only one who really got drowned in the dive was fear. I thanked Petros warmly and went straight to Naoussa to tell my friends all about my experience. I didn’t want to tire them, but it’s true I could be speaking to them for hours. I summarized my main feeling: weight, aqualungs, tubes; nothing was able to stand between me and the absolute feeling of being part of the planet’s life. Paros had offered me yet another kiss of life for one more summer, easily and succinctly.
Apart from the dive, the island had other moving moments in store for me. I will give you an account of my experience of grape harvesting with Vasilis Panteleos and his company on the mountain – yes, the mountain- at another instance. The mountain whose blessed slopes, above Lefkes, give amply the fruit of Dionysus. While I’m writing this Mr Knister is looking me in the eye “Write about the Xilofournos of Mr Nikos with the superb beef pie. This is the real kiss of life”. What should I say about the cheese pie and the ice cream?
I don’t know what to choose to write about this island. This time I would like you to write to me here firstname.lastname@example.org and also find us on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ParolaFreePress
I’m looking forward to reading about your own kiss of life in Paros, whether you are a holiday maker or a permanent resident. I’m sure Parola will initiate a very interesting bright network with Paros, Antiparos and their people as points of reference.
PS. I’m looking forward to getting there this year. And when I do, I will be dancing barefoot on the marina in Naoussa with Panagiotis Tsevas playing the accordion and Martha Fritzila singing. This will definitely open up my ears and free my soul. See you on August 2nd!