High Drama on a Quiet Greek Island

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

The living room, from the kitchen, where all the dancing and cucumber thieving and other excitement happens.

The living room, from the kitchen, where all the dancing and cucumber thieving and other excitement happens.

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…

Yiannis in the foreground. I tried to tell him to go home, but he ignored me, so I carried him when he got tired and here he is on a carrying break.

Yiannis in the foreground. I tried to tell him to go home, but he ignored me, so I carried him when he got tired and here he is on a break from being carried.

Couple of uninvited cats here on an evening stroll.

Couple of uninvited cats here on an evening stroll.

out for a nice walk alone

out for a nice walk alone

Nope! Being tracked!

Nope! Being tracked!

I'm such a sucker. We sat on a neighbours patio and visited.

I’m such a sucker. We sat on a neighbour’s patio and visited.

Small grey stalker at the bast of the stair.

Small grey stalker at the bottom left corner of the door.

Is it a kind of mental illness? Perhaps…

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

Schoolwork, Cheese, or Stare at the Sky?

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:

Ship heading out into the strait on a windy day

Ship heading East towards, Vancouver (?) perhaps, on today’s windy morning

Can you believe the colour of the sky here? It’s real! Look at the sliver of pale blue on the right to verify…

Forgive the blurs – the rain had started falling on me (and the camera)

Strange spiderweb, picked out by the moisture in the air on a foggy day two weeks ago.

Walking along the ocean on the same foggy day

Good night ❤

What Does It All Mean?!

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

The new, ‘sporty’ Rache

the sign, and the rebels’ bags, neatly placed.

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 people after my own heart in their approach to looking at rules as possibly just suggestions. 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!

My Day as a Criminal Tourist

A friend of mine came to visit us here in our little Greek world recently. Visitors are always good, because in the process of showing them the places and people and things you like and think are interesting, you come to appreciate new aspects of those things through the new eyes, the new perspective, the visitor brings. And Jen was a stellar visitor.

She admired, she savoured, she laughed and she appreciated it all so thoroughly, it compounded the pleasure I have already been taking in this quiet northern corner of the island of Chios. She also embraced slightly dodgy rule-bending (breaking? maybe) with me, but all in the name of seeing and experiencing as much as possible!

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Dogs, and Cats, and Horses, oh my!

Lest we should become complacent and begin to think we’ve got our sea legs here, Stamatis brought us another dog a couple of days ago. Like the black labrador puppy “guard dog” he acquired for us before, this dog has no discipline. In fact, it has less than the puppy. The puppy could be released and would stay with you. This new dog takes off like a shot, straight for the nearest cat or horse. The first time it happened, I was sure the dog was going to get its head kicked off, with all his barking at the heels of the horse, ignoring my calling, evading me by going under the horse and leaping at her belly. Fool dog. Hello? Have you noticed how much bigger than you that animal is? The horse showed admirable calm and poise throughout the dog’s ridiculous and ill-advised show of ferocity.

I have become slightly more trusting of horses this week after the above episode, and then furthered by my encounter with the other horse, the black one that the policeman’s wife calls Naomi (Campbell). She had become hopelessly entangled on a big chunk of wood in the field and couldn’t move very far. I brought her offerings of green grass from the part of the field she couldn’t reach and then moved on to patting her cheeks and neck. I have no idea if horses like this or if it irritates them, but I’ve seen it on tv, and she seemed all right with it. Eventually, I moved my attention to her tangled up rope problem, and in my focus, briefly forgot about her and my nerves, until I felt a soft nose and warm breath in my hair, and then I figured we were friends. So, horses and me, we’re okay with each other at the moment.

Naomi and the bane of her existence, the loose stump.

But I digress. Back to the new dog. The second time the dog’s lead was dropped, it was a madhouse in the yard for about five minutes. Cats went scattering in all directions, with a yellow streak of a dog in pursuit, and me lagging behind desperately trying to catch his rope. After that, he has had to be tied to a tree so he won’t kill all the cats and harass the horses. Sofia, one of the cats, likes to sit just inches out of reach while the dog strains on his rope, barking and lunging at her. I’ve told her it’s unkind to torment him like that, and I pick her up and remove her, but I’ve seen her do it since, so evidently she’s not taking me very seriously.

Leon, another new, small dog that was brought over from Athens while we were away seems to suffer from small-dog-syndrome, and keeps trying to show the other dogs his dominance, growling and trying to climb on top of the newest dog in that weird, mounting, I’m-the-boss way dogs have. But Leon’s smaller, so while he can kind of leap up there, he has a hard time balancing, and slips off sideways, crashing to the ground, leaping up again and yapping and growling away. The other dog barely even seems to notice. It’s all very undignified looking for Leon, I’m afraid.

Meanwhile the cats are beginning to integrate – the two indoor cats with the outdoor cats. Only Yiannis, the male, fluffy, bathroom attendant cat is having a slightly harder time. He’s got no aggression in him, and gets nervous when the other two males come near him, which of course, just sets them off into more aggressive behaviour. He just wants to sit in the sun and chase butterflies. He’s like a toy come to life, this cat. Sofia’s got more feistiness in her, and so the other cats accept her and she’s fine outside. Anyway, evening was coming and bringing a storm with it last night. We decided to put the newest dog in the shed with Hermes and Perrita to keep out of the rain. Just as I managed to get the three of them in there, I heard a call for help from Mom. This is what I saw: my mother, lying sprawled face down across the gardening bags and equipment, with her right arm extended, hand clutching a slightly alarmed looking Yiannis by the scruff. “What are you doing?!” I asked. “I’m trying to get Yiannis inside before the storm comes, but now that I’ve got him, I can’t get up without letting go of him.” I stifled the desire to sit down and laugh right then and there because I think my mother might have been a bit annoyed with me had I done that, and I helped her and Yiannis up. God, it was cute.

Yiannis – watch out butterflies, this cat’s got his eye on you!

This is the gentle horse who ignored the idiot dog barking and leaping at her. Sweet thing she is.

It Was a Case of Mistaken Identity

When you see a very old person, tottering around trying to accomplish things, you step up to give them a hand, right? Right. But be warned, this kind of behaviour can lead to unintended consequences. Especially if there’s a language barrier. I speak here from my recent experience as an accidental farmer.

Stamatis, slave driver at the water fountain, and on the farm, tolerating my photography.

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