4 October 2022

Sikinos

Chora, Sikinos today

Life happened before The Internet and before blogging.

In my early to mid-twenties I travelled to Greece several times. It was almost wholly about the isles of Greece - not the mainland.

Once I travelled to Greece aboard a bus - The Magic Bus - from London  but otherwise I managed to muster enough money for the airfares.  When I got there, I mostly slept on beaches with occasional nights in cheap "pensions" or  rented rooms as I didn't have much spare money.

In those days it was amazingly cheap to eat and drink in Greece so most nights were spent in tavernas eating authentic Greek food and drinking Greek beer, retsina and  occasional ouzos which could be deadly - causing severe memory loss if you had too many.

In the daytime I swam in crystal clear bays, walked for miles, read books  or hooked up with other travellers. Then I might board another boat to travel to a different island.

Since joining The European Union, Greece has changed a lot. It  has lost some of its simplicity and its mystical connections with Ancient Greece seem less obvious, less melodic. There are more tourists and more "international" food. A once proud and unhurried country has become one of the poor men of Europe, judged more commonly in economic terms.

Sitting down to write this blogpost, I had not predicted such a long preamble. A simple Grecian memory had resurfaced and I just wanted to share it.

The year was probably 1978. July or August. I had disembarked  with a handful of others from a ferry at the port of the little-visited island of Sikinos in the heart of the Aegean Sea.

Up above the small ferry port  was the main settlement on the island  - the little town of Chora which was more like a village, less populous than it had once been. A cluster of white building blocks arranged randomly at the top of the hill - probably for historical defensive reasons. You reached it via a track that wound its way up from the port.

It was the middle of the day and scorchingly hot. The sun bore down like a giant laser beam as I trudged along, bearing my purple rucksack like a tortoise. Halfway up the hill, a minor disaster happened.  The front strap on my left sandal tore away from the sole. I had no other footwear so I limped into the town square with the strap flapping.

I unleashed my rucksack and sat on a wall feeling rather sorry for myself as I inspected my broken sandal. I don't know quite where he came from but just then an old man appeared. He took my sandal from me and turned it over a couple of times. He chattered away in Greek and gesticulated before scurrying away with the sandal.  I was hoping he had said he was going to fix the sandal but I didn't know for sure.

Half an hour later he had still not come back and I was starting to wonder if he had simply been playing a practical joke. But then he reappeared  - grinning a toothy smile and bearing the sandal triumphantly. He had riveted and re-sown the broken strap. I put it back on and it was perfect. He uttered joyous words in Greek and I uttered words of thanks in English as well as a few "efcharistós". I was very grateful.

He indicated that he was going to the cafe on the other side of the square. I followed him and in there I tried to buy him a drink to show my gratitude but he was having none of that. He was there to play backgammon with his old friends.  What he had done was to simply help another human being - a complete stranger- and he wanted no reward. 

That was often the old Greek way.  True civilisation and that memory has stayed with me for well over forty years.  The nameless old man will have passed away long ago but in my memory something of his loveliness remains like a lesson.

37 comments:

  1. What a lovely, kind memory to have.

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    1. Such memories of kindness should make us more inclined to pass that baton along.

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  2. A lovely gesture. I have heard of the Magic Bus.

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    1. The Magic Bus coughed you out as knackered as a pit pony.

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  3. Very much reminds me of the Mexico we visited back in the eighties versus the way it is now. Just...the pure kindness of people. They still are for the most part but after decades of dealing with Americans (and tourists from all over the world) they are a bit more jaded, I think.

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    1. Naturalness and innocence can soon evaporate.

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  4. That's a great memory. It gladdens the heart.

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    1. I think that is why I have remembered it so vividly JayCee.

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  5. What a great story. It sometimes seems so rare to encounter that kind of generosity, with no expectation of reward.

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    1. It doesn't seem to "fit" the world we mostly know.

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  6. I very much wished I had traveled more when I was younger and it was easy to do. These days we are a party of five and have complicated work and school schedules to work around as well as five different takes on where would be fun to travel too. I spend a lot of time thinking about where I will go when it is back down to two people and two ideas.

    Reading your story of the Greek cobbler, reaffirms my faith in humanity. It has been my experience, that wherever I have gone, there have been nice people willing to help me if needed. I strive to be that person too though I'm not always successful I'm sure.

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    1. I also strive to be as kind as possible but I am no Jesus. When your girls have flown the nest you'll be able to visit a retirement village in Florida!

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  7. After graduating University, I donned a backpack and travelled around Europe for 4 months. My son, (21 yrs), is heading off to Thailand and Europe for a similar travelling adventure (in 3 mths). His father and I are nervous. (In fact, his father can't even discuss it without breaking into a cold sweat.) Hopefully, my son will run into warm-hearted people as you did and not the passport-stealing criminals my husband imagines.

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    1. Is he going on his own Melinda?

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    2. He's travelling with a friend which eases our minds somewhat.

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    3. Thank your lucky stars that they are not going to Chicago.

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  8. Such a lovely memory to keep. Sikinos looks idyllic - even today.
    I have friends who retired to Greece and say that islands without an airport remain relatively unspoiled. The big threat now is cruise ships.

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    1. Back then cruise ships never stopped at Sikinos. I don't know how it is today.

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  9. I think there are many kind, helpful people in this world. Too bad we often have to hear the stories of the awful ones!

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    1. I firmly believe that good, decent and kind people are by far in the majority.

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  10. We had the experience of a random stranger fixing our boat in Lithuania in similar fashion after being knocked down in a Baltic storm in 1997. I have since stuck to a resolution to do what I can to pass that spirit on when opportunites present themselves.

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    1. Kindness should indeed be like a relay race.

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  11. Greece. Goddess with many faces. She even appears as Jesus' mommy.
    Ye don't spout twaddle as many do after a night on Retsina or turpentine.
    *Be still. Greece will find you.* Monkeyshines. I fall for it every time.

    Ye'll no grow a Mel Gibson beard and call yourself Spyros the Cretan, ay no ?
    I went through a Celtic phase, fancied a green-eyed lassie from Wester Ross.
    We went to ceilidhs at the Highland Institute, she married a Surrey stockbroker.
    I consoled myself with Macallan Single Malt Whiskey and listening to the Pibroch.

    *Its quite primal : the blissed-out bagpipes of Pibroch.*
    The Guardian online. Neil McQuillian. January 2021.

    Listen to the Pibroch Children's Lament. YouTube.
    A wee bit like the Greek bagpipes, the Tsabouna from Naxos.
    Maybe not. I'm on the Hungarian Tokaji tonight.

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    1. How could a snivelling Surrey stockbroker compare with Braveheart Haggerty, Laird of the Gorbals? That green eyed wench shoulda gone to "Specsavers"!

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  12. While I am sure your modest spending as a young tourist was welcome, you weren't chased after for money as you would now be. I've never thought too much about the prominent Greek tourist islands we visited. I should.

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    1. It's different now. We have been back to Greece in recent years... Crete,
      Corfu, Santorini and Kefalonia. Still lovely but not as lovely as before.

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  13. Great story. wouldn't the world be far better off with more people like this old man.

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  14. One of those unforgettable encounters. Heartwarming.
    My eldest brother, during the junta years, followed Mikis Theodorakis and Maria Farantouri and witnessed their "underground concerts".
    I made most of my unforgettable early encounters in England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
    Almost anyone who has experienced friendliness unexpectedly will never forget it and, as a result, perhaps become a friendly and helpful person themselves .
    How wonderful life on this planet could be!
    But I digress.

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    1. If only we could all be infected with kindness and goodwill rather than COVID19.

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  15. That's a sweet story, especially coming from a curmudgeon like you. :^D

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    1. That's like the pot calling the kettle black Bruce!

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  16. I've known a few Greeks over the years and there isn't a single bad word I could say about any one of them. They are good people! I'm sure there are a few bad apples in the mix, every country has them, but I never met any. My oldest grand daughter's fiance is Greek.

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    1. The traditional Greek character involves kindness, togetherness and generosity.

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  17. Thank you for sharing this lovey memory with us, and a bit more about your travels as a young man. From London to Greece by bus - I can not begin to imagine how many hours that took!
    I have never been to Greece myself (mainland or islands), but O.K.'s sister married a man on Crete and ran a kafenion with him until her untimely death. He keeps talking of wanting to return to Crete for a holiday, but so far we have no real plans.

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    1. You should go Meike - perhaps next year. See Spinalonga and the Lasithi Plateau and swim in clear Cretan seas. I am sure there are one or two tourist resorts you might wish to avoid.

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  18. An amazing story. I have a similar one which you have inspired me to write about soon.

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