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.

Love to travel, love to stay home

P1000965And 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.

The wine - in it's transporting bottle to go to Sofia and Yianni's.

The wine – in its transporting bottle to go to Sofia and Yianni’s.

The maestro, just before I was sent to get the guitar.

The maestro, just before I was sent to get the guitar.

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Animals everywhere. You have to watch your step around here.

Animals everywhere. You have to watch your step around here. There are 9 animals in this photo

Evening from the patio

Evening from the patio

Walking the dogs down to the beach is one of the highlights of the day

Walking the dogs down to the beach is one of the highlights of the day

Things we see on our walks: orange and olive trees in fields of yellow flowers.

Things we see on our walks: orange and olive trees in fields of yellow flowers.

A rainy day

A rainy day

Rain coming!

Rain coming!

Another walk photo

Another walk photo

The house from the garden

The house from the garden

The Traveler Who Was Terrible At Leaving Places

Gallery

This gallery contains 8 photos.

Obviously that refers to your truly. This is the problem with house sitting. You get attached to people and places and animals. Happened to me in Ireland, and now it’s happening here in Greece. Happens to me pretty much everywhere … Continue reading

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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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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Washroom Attendants – A Consideration of Two Different Kinds

Do you sometimes find yourself heading off to the bathroom, reluctant to leave the society of your friends and family, but called insistently by nature? What you need is a bathroom attendant! I don’t mean the traditional kind– Continue reading

Oh Spring, You Pretty Thing! (except one small detail)

This island is bustin out all its spring finery these days. Every day I see some new type of flower that I hadn’t seen before. And this just on the half mile walk down to the sea and back with the dogs.  Having heard about a wild tulip extravaganza in the southern regions of the island, we packed up a little picnic lunch (quite little actually, because we forgot half of it in the fridge), and set off in search of grand fields of waving wild tulips! 

Not cultivated, but preferring to grow in cultivated fields, the wild tulips of Chios can be found amongst groves of olive trees, or in fields left fallow at the moment, and they are as pretty as promised. The awkward bit is that they’re in fields, often with long grass, which is a the favourite stomping grounds of my new least favourite animal – the hideous, bloodsucking, spider-resembling tick. I have a bit of an aversion to spiders so the resemblance is a bad start. But ticks are in a new, much worse, league. At least I know that spiders aren’t actually interested in hunting me. Ticks, on the other hand, just want some nice juicy, blood filled mammal to sink their little fangs (or whatever they have) into. The stuff of nightmares! Mine, anyway. And there are a LOT of ticks around here at the moment. I was going to put a photo of one here, but after a brief foray into google images for ticks, I’ve given myself the creeps again and changed my mind. I don’t want to give other people nightmares too. 

Despite this threat, I was lured into the fields (wearing rubber boots) by the splendour of the blooms, and they were splendid indeed! See photos below. My photography doesn’t really do the beauty justice, but it’s the best I could manage under the circumstances. The circumstances requiring that I take the photos quickly and retreat briskly to inspect myself for ticks on the safety of the road.  

For your viewing pleasure: 

Perrita down at the beach in the evening on the carpet of pink flowers. No idea what they are.