Hong Kong airport has a pay-to-use lounge, complete with very nice shower rooms and 15 minute massage. Since I was stuck there for 6 hours, I signed up to spend some of that time at the lounge. It was a very pleasant interlude. Which was good. I needed that calming peace for what was to come…
On the outskirts of a sleepy, half empty village on a remote Greek island in the winter, a lone Canadian woman comes to be a house sitter. Just a single, aspiring cat-lady-slash-student looking after some rescue dogs and cats, all alone, except the old man upstairs. You’d think it would be pretty quiet, right? Peaceful. Maybe even a bit dull.
Yeah, that’s what I thought too. I fantasized about long walks down to the beach, and cooking, with just my own music playing on the computer. Maybe some cats and dogs scattered about, sleeping… I even worried that I’d get a bit bored, lonely.
Ha! Joke’s on me.
Now, there have been walks and cooking and music and that’s all been very pleasant, but there is no boredom, and no chance for loneliness. I can’t get a moment alone actually. I can’t even go for a walk without company. Every day, I take the dogs for a walk. Anywhere from one to six cats try to follow. They are fine for the first half kilometer, and then they start getting tired, and feeling alarmed at how far from home we are and crying piteously. To avoid this, I try to sneak away (difficult, with excited dogs alerting everyone within earshot with loud, joyful barking: We’re going for a walk! It’s really happening! Just like yesterday! Oh my god!! A walk!! ), or put the worst cat followers in the house before we go. The one time I left the dogs in the house (barking frantically), cats still followed me. Crying if I walked too fast. So, it was not all that relaxing. It was after the following incident.
Some background info: It’s a bit cold here some days. Depends on which direction the wind is coming from. When it’s from the south, it’s mild: 16 to 21 degrees generally. When it comes from the north, the temperature drops to the single digits, and then it’s time to get the wood stove going! Stamatis doesn’t have a wood stove, and his apartment upstairs is much more open-plan than the one down here, so even with his little space heater on, the heat doesn’t have much effect. On those evenings, he makes his way to my front door, comments on the warmth (zesta) coming out the door, the cold upstairs (clio pano), and I invite him in. He nestles in amongst the cats on the couch, sometimes has a little nap, and then offers advice/criticism about my life (I have very clear instructions about what I should and shouldn’t eat, how much time I shouldn’t spend in front of the computer, and apparently I should marry a Greek man, stay here on Chios and have babies), and he accepts lemon cookies.
Recently, in a bid to divert the flow of advice, I turned to YouTube and its wide selection of musical choices. Stamatis requested Greek ‘Bouzoukia’ folk music and I found a long playlist of it. Look at me, solving problems! Of course, once the music was going, Stamatis wanted to do a spot of Greek dancing, and so I was drafted in to be a dance partner. There we stood, side by side, his left hand on my right shoulder and my right hand on his left shoulder, bopping and stepping, forward, back, swing leg up, Zorba the Greek-like, to the music, congratulating each other, “Bravo!” at the end of the song.
And then just as I was thinking I could settle back into my reading for school, all hell broke loose. Two cats discovered the cucumber peelings in the garbage, and started to rip the bag (who knew cats were so partial to cucumber?) I made a dive for them because my rule is: outside with cats that raid the garbage! The dogs thought that something exciting and dramatic was unfolding and threw themselves into the drama with high-pitched
barking abandon and much leaping about. The cats scattered to hidden corners with their cucumber prizes, and the dogs gave frenzied chase, with me trailing all. Stamatis, meanwhile, was still on his feet in the middle of the room and he assisted in the unfolding tomfoolery by standing in the middle of the room shouting at the animals. Thanks, Stamati, that’ll calm everyone down. This is all going on in one small kitchen/living room. I wanted to run outside and escape everyone. It was riDICulous.
Once I fished the cats and cucumber out from behind furniture, I told Stamatis I was leaving him with the dogs and going for a walk. He thought it a bad idea, because it was getting dark, but my frazzled nerves would have it no other way. However, as I mentioned before, I was followed, and it was indeed getting quite dark, so I didn’t get very far, and just sat on a rock up the road trying to enjoy the quiet and patting the two cats who had come with me. I think I will try again this afternoon to sneak away. Just half an hour alone would be so nice…
And this house-sit is perfect for that split in my personality. It’s been just over three weeks now that I’ve been back in this tiny house just outside the village of Volissos (see village in banner), on Chios, and most days I don’t venture further than a couple of kilometers, while walking the dogs. This time it’s just me on my own. I worried I would be lonely, craving human contact, craving someone English speaking, but so far, I am entirely, enTIREly content. There has, of course, been contact with friends and family, because this is the age of Skype and Facebook and WhatsApp and other such technological marvels, so there is that. But the only company I have here in person (so to speak) is that of 3 dogs, 11 cats, and 1 Greek-speaking old man.
I have had school to focus on, but I’m not very good at focusing on the things I should be. I have spent a lot of time on the internet following rabbits down holes. Did you know, for example, that scientists have been experimenting with treating Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis with intestinal worms? It turns out that the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ – the idea that our immune systems have been thrown off balance by too much cleanliness – has been updated to the ‘old friends hypothesis.’ The story with this being that we’ve removed a bunch of our parasites/microbes that we had in fact had useful working relationships with – hence, of course, the proliferation of pro-biotic products on the grocery store shelves. I learned about this worm-eating business, and many more non-school related tidbits in the past three weeks while avoiding doing what I should have been doing.
I also decided to not drink while I was here. I have sort of stuck to it. I only bought one little half litre bottle of wine once, and drank it over two nights. But Stamatis and I were sitting outside in the sun one day after lunch, and he was saying (in Greek, with gestures – we’ve gotten pretty good at communicating across the language barrier) wouldn’t some wine be nice right now? “Nei”, i agreed, “but we don’t have any. Supermarket?” (which is a grand name for a tiny little shop in the village, but anyway)
Stamatis: “Ohi! (No) and then a lot of Greek, which I think was something to the effect of: “I wouldn’t drink that garbage – I never eat anything that’s not organic and health conscious! That’s why I give you such a hard time whenever you buy any tomatoes or potatoes or oatmeal or whatever from the regular store, rather than the health food store. That’s why I drink soy milk and not regular milk, and eat fish and try to make you eat fish! My body is a temple!” (except when it comes to store-bought cookies or cake or sugary apple-fritter type pastries, and cheap white-flour melba toasts…those are exempt apparently)
Okay, so no wine I guess.
Not so! I was sent off to get a couple of glasses. Turns out, he has a stash of homemade wine, that he made, from the grapes that he grows right here! We had a very pleasant afternoon getting drunk in the sun on this cloudy, pinkish, “organique!”, wine surrounded by cats and dogs, with my computer out, talking about life and death and everything in between (thank you, Google translate). There was even a little concert – Stamatis playing guitar and singing; seven or eight cats, three dogs and one human in the audience. I was tucking myself into bed by 7:30 that evening. The next night, Stamatis brought me to the neighbours’ house for dinner. We brought a litre of his wine and the four of us shared it there. So that’s two nights in a row I fell off the wagon. But it was worth it. Sometimes having a glass of wine or many is just the right thing to do.
So, this was a family Christmas – a back-home Christmas, and it was wonderful. I haven’t been in Canada for this time of year in six years, and while I was away, I minimized it in my mind, so that I would miss it less. But actually, I had also been feeling a bit jaded about Christmas for most of my adulthood anyway. I tried to cancel presents (with no success) for several years. I took to wrapping my presents for people in towels and scarves, so that at least I wouldn’t be contributing to the waste of throwing wrapping paper in the garbage. I showed up at my mother’s house for Christmas eve dinner one year, hopelessly drunk after an impromptu staff party at the hotel I worked in the cafe of (God knows how I navigated the buses that evening), and proceeded to curl up on the hallway floor and implore my little brother and sister, still kids then, to leave me be, I needed a nap, and I then slept through the whole meal. I still hear about that.
This year though has been picture perfect, and I’ve loved all of it. I am in the lucky position of having an unconventional and somewhat sprawled-out family, and it affords me the luxury of having multiple family homes and multiple family dynamics to visit with. I spent Christmas day between three households, with a walk down by the sea with my sister in the middle of two visits. It was a wild and windy West coast day, and Anna and I went from one section of seafront to another on our way to the dinner location, stopping and photographing and running and yelling and generally acting like out-of-control children, until our fingers and cheeks hurt from the cold and the dark was falling too fast to stay outside.
There’s a whole big spectacular world out there, that I’m constantly hankering to get out and explore, but home has been everything I could ask for of late – a place of love and comfort and beauty and familiarity, and I’m very happy here. And I hope for as much happiness for everyone else out there as well.
I have crazy cat lady tendencies. It goes back to my childhood, as these kinds of afflictions so often do, when we had a lot of cats, and I fell in love with them all. Those little bewhiskered faces, and those tidy little paws, with their retractable claws. Those Continue reading
I have a paper due on Monday. I have 900 words written and 2100 words yet to go, and I’m not terribly impressed with the ones I’ve got so far. Instead, I just keep wandering into the kitchen and considering food choices. I’m experiencing a strong, consistent craving for cheese these days, so the key question I ask myself while drifting around the kitchen, is “Could this be a vehicle for cheese?” Favourite choices are: perogies, spaghetti, beans on rice with tomatoes, fried egg on toast – all of which can be buried in a generous layer of grated cheese. Sometimes I go healthy: salad! (with feta cheese), baked squash! (with parmesan). My passion for cheese will fade in time, but right now it’s in full, obsessive, flower. Perhaps my body’s trying to fatten itself up a little for the coming winter. I am happy to oblige.
My other schoolwork-avoiding activity is to go outside and stare at the sky and the sea. This is a very pleasant activity – perhaps even more wonderful than eating cheese. Thanks to the changing seasons, the weather has been putting on all kinds of shows. The wind show, the rain show, the leaves-changing show, the amazing sunset colour show, and so on. Morning, afternoon, or evening, I can’t stop taking photos of all this prettiness.
Prettiness is the wrong word though, because sometimes it’s dark and foreboding, and sometimes it’s just so much bigger and more dramatic than ‘pretty’. It makes your heart feel full and your limbs feel like they’re shot through with some kind of electrical joy (I don’t know how else to describe that feeling – if someone else does, please tell me. I was going to put tingly, but tingly sounds too close to numbness, and it’s the opposite of that). Sometimes I put the pictures on facebook or email them to people. I feel like I want to drag the rest of the world over to see, but of course, wherever on earth you are, there’s beauty all around, so everyone has access to their own versions and may not feel particularly interested in mine… All the same, here are some photos:
A little over year ago my sister and I were staying at a friend’s house in Vancouver. He and I were chatting in the living room, and she was enthusiastically chopping lettuce in the kitchen. A peaceful, pleasant afternoon fading into evening, the day before I was to board a plane for lands far away. As we sat, sipping our tea, chatting, there was a sudden shout from the kitchen, the sound of a knife being dropped on the counter and the water started running. Eric and I headed over to see what had happened, and found Anna clutching her Continue reading
I LOVE this kind of weather! Over the last few days, we’ve seen a couple of storms fly over this island city of ours. First the wind picks up, churning the sea into frothy mass and bringing the rain in on its heels. Then the skies open up and drench everything for Continue reading
This is something I seem to excel at on a grand scale. On a small scale I tend to be quite practical: buy the cheap car, use a hot water bottle to keep toasty rather than heat a whole room, go to bed at a reasonable hour, stop eating when full and so on. On the large scale of life choices, I have no common sense at all. I won’t go into my imprudent choices of romantic partners, or my silly, mistaken ideas about what was a good course of action in terms of career and post-secondary education (with the exception of now; I think I have finally made a good choice education-wise), but trust me when I tell you, my track record in these two arenas is deeply flawed. I could write a what-not-to-do book based on sound (im)practical experiences.
My most recent foolishness on a grand scale is to book a trip to Greece to house-sit. The reason this is not sensible is financial. I am a student, at the beginning of my student-hood, with 19 months ahead of me, and negligible income. But I tell myself it’ll all work out somehow. When this woman who I house sat for before on Chios asked me if I’d be willing to come back this January, I hemmed and hawed for week or two. The thought of cozying up in that little house, 5 minutes from the Aegean, olive trees outside the windows, wood-stove burning away, cup of tea in hand… How could I resist? Also, I can be mind-numbingly sentimental and prone to falling head-over-heels for most 4-legged, fur-adorned creatures, and with 7 cats and 3 dogs, well, I will be in a kind of swooning heaven.
So, with fond memories, not yet 5 months old, of drinking my morning coffee in the garden under an olive tree, with cats and dogs gradually congregating around me and a loud, bossy, but sweet, grandfatherly Greek man wandering about tending his plants, appearing periodically with gifts of fruits to be eaten and ordering me around in Greek, I went online and bought my ticket back to Chios.
Victoria’s been doing a pretty good impersonation of a Disney movie lately. Woodland animals everywhere, 2 months now of relentlessly sunshiny days, leading to delicious fruit: peaches, plums, apples, berries, tomatoes (see Fig 1), hummingbirds darting around, all flashy red and green and tiny and ferocious (to each other anyway). When I walk up the stairs in the morning to go for my daily swim there are almost always racoon footprints marked in the dew on the steps, and spiderwebs glittering in the sun, picked out by the dew as well (I may be scared of spiders, but I am in awe of their web-building). Anyway, you get the idea; it’s pretty idyllic.
But, in every story, there must come the conflict.
It arrived last night, in the form of those rat-bastard deer that I usually so admire. The thieves broke into the vegetable patch and ate the little growing squashes, pea plants, kale and the chard. Those were meant to be a winter harvest for the people, not an early fall snack for the deer. Elizabeth was heartbroken, as would anyone be after expending the time, love and labour that she has on the garden. Dad and I worked on an enclosure today and that shouldn’t happen again (God willing, they don’t just push it over. Deer are big and well-muscled.) But unfortunately, those plants aren’t going to recover in time for this winter. So it was a sad morning. Deer are pretty, but they are in the doghouse now, even in my eyes.
So that’s the woodland creatures’ dark side, but at least there’s still all that lovely sunshine, right?
No. The sunshine isn’t all sunshine and light it turns out. The front page of the paper this morning had this alarming news (article here): the salmon can’t run if they don’t have rivers to run in and many of the rivers have been reduced to a trickle. Some of the salmon that have started pooling in the ocean near their respective origin river mouths are being caught and trucked up to spawning grounds, but that’s not a viable solution for all. It’s time for the rain to come now. I will start thinking rainy thoughts.
My first day of on-campus school is on Tuesday, so I think rain would be quite appropriate anyway. I like the idea of sitting in a class with the rain drumming down outside, and a hot chocolate in my hands. Now that I think about it, I kind of miss the smell of wet cement and rain-washed air.
So, I’ve taken up swimming. I go 5 days a week, in the morning, and I feel very pleased with myself for it, very virtuous. I’m definitely not one of the high achievers in the pool, but I’m better than I was when I started 3 weeks ago. Here is my routine:
-wake up, at around 7:00
-get cup of coffee, as prepared by Dad (this must be done before swimming because if you wait til after, the coffee’s been sitting in the carafe for an hour or more and tastes very bad)
-drink coffee while perusing email and news of the day. I am obsessed with the American presidential election campaign lately and could spend hours doing this. But, one must live one’s own life! And so…
-head off to pool! Usually alone, but sometimes I can wrangle a family member into joining me. This morning, I literally pulled the blankets off my sister and dragged her from her bed to the rec centre with me. Luckily, they never lock the doors at her house, allowing me to easily access and harass my little sibling. (Lest you think I am unreasonably aggressive with her, she had agreed to go with me the night before and had responded to my texts in the morning, she just hadn’t actually gotten herself out of bed.)
-at pool, put bag with towel, shampoo, bathing cap and goggles on pool deck with everyone else’s, directly under friendly, charming little sign, decorated with pictures of water drops, which requests: “Please do not leave bags or personal items on deck. Lockers are available to safely store your belongings.” The majority of my fellow pool goers are middle-aged to elderly people just looking to get a bit of exercise and maybe socialize a little. But they are also cats after my own heart. All of our bags and belongings collect by the waterfall feature, under or very near the aforementioned sign (see photo above).
-straight into hot tub. I am a dessert first kind of girl.
-once I’m properly toasty, it’s off to the big pool for the main event – swimming up and down the pool! Tedious and yet, oddly satisfying. When I started, I swam 16 laps! Only it turned out, that actually a lap is when you swim from the shallow end to the deep and back to the shallow end. My dad straightened me out on that. So, really, I swam 8 laps my first day, and there were a lot of breaks at the shallow end. I have increased to 15 (real) laps and fewer breaks. Small potatoes in the world of the Oak Bay Rec Center; my fellow swimmers mostly outswim me. But anyway, baby steps.
-shower, dress, and head home! All done and athleticized by 9 am!