Santorini 4: Vourvoulou

This morning in the early cool Quan and I turned away from the dramatic caldera view where all the pricey hotels are perched like birds (or guano, viewed from afar), and walked down the long apron of farms on the far side to the Aegean where the mountain of Anafi floats in the sky some miles out to sea. Oh, how I’d love to sail these islands! A few observations:

The old CD’s hang on strings and flash in the breeze to scare away the birds from the farmers’ crops.

The donkeys have stalls that are pumice caves into the sides of the cliff. The donkeys work all day carrying the tourists up the steep side of the caldera from the ferries and cruise ships to the tourist towns on the lip (“Asses for the asses”, quips Quan). With no natural water on the island, all the tomatoes and grapes and figs – as well as the donkeys – look dry as can be – and we wonder how they grow.

A large flat empty Go-Kart park filled a forest of every driving sign known to Europe, where they obviously teach the island kids how to drive (too bad so little of it sticks – we are honked at, swerved by, and it’s a miracle more accidents don’t happen). The ‘streets’ are very small; I imagine they use the numerous little dune buggies and ATV’s that are lying fallow tourist-free months of the winter.

After an hour’s walk, we cool our feet in the velvet sea, and meet an old widow gathering the red volcanic stones on the beach backed by badland formations of water-shaped pumice. I really have so little Greek, but as soon as I speak one word, she assumes and is off at 60 miles an hour, so I soon am at a total loss, but the gist is Obama up, Clinton down, Bush way down, and everything is expensive and going downhill. I am ashamed – I couldn’t carry on one coherent sentence in any language about current Greek politics, and this woman – certainly neither educated nor cultivated nor English speaking – knows more than many Americans about our election.

In the little harbor next to the beach, only two traditional caiquies remain; the rest are all fiberglass motorboats. Though the nets look the same as they ever did.

It was a long, hot walk back up the mountain, a couple of thousand feet up the squiggly road, back from the women sweeping the front terraces in their ‘jammies, back from the mustachioed men on their mopeds, back from the gangly children shuffling to school, back from the shady figs and hard green grapes, back into the indulgent world of the island visitor – the poolside sibilance of the Italian, German, and French sybarites taking showers on an island with no natural water.

Later, back in the tourist town, the Americans from the ships shuffling through the narrow streets among the Tag Heuer watches and €2000 gold chains and tacky Santorini fridge magnets have plastic stickers with numbers stuck to their chests designating what? Their boat? Their bus? Does it get any worse than this? Could they be any more like cattle?

Quan asks me what I will remember most, and the answer is the process of buying some religious icons in Oia, involving several trips to the dark below-street shop with its arching roof sheltering the angels and archangels, madonnas and apostles. We share coffee with the muscular painter with the ravaged face while both the art and the relationship are weighed, as that all figures in the final price in this negotiable culture. Another high point was sharing an hour of songs – trading back and forth between the English pop and the Greek traditional, using guitar and the tiny bouzoukis in the Mad Greek Michaili’s taverna served by the Californian who is a dead-ringer for Misty – hair, body, carriage, attitude. Bless her and keep her safe.

Within a few years, it will be difficult to find someone who speaks good demotic Greek, and the old signs, with the old Cyrillic alphabet, will be on sale in the shops as novelties. I suppose it is a good idea for world understanding that we are headed for one world culture, but in the particular, it just seems sad and demeaning to the establishment of centuries of individualized points-of-view.

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