Vathi Vetoed

Vathy, Sifnos

We have decided not to go to Vathy like we had been planning. I hate to admit that I am reluctant to return to "paradise", but Andrea confided that yesterday she had the same feeling she had during our last couple days in Vathi last year when we realized that we had been there too long and if we were to stay longer we might lose our minds. When we are sitting in our kitchen in Carrboro, North Carolina, looking at our photos with a longing for that simple life it's a whole different story than being here when it's a hundred degrees and all you want to do is sit in your hotel room with pictures of Greek Island scenes on the walls and pray for the meltemi.

For the last couple years we have been spending ten days of our summer in the small monastery that rents out its simple rooms for a few dollars a night. There was only a long dusty dirt road passable by jeep. It's a popular yacht stop and there is a daily boat that leaves Kamares at 11am and returns at 4 that deposits tourists on the long beach. Few of them spend the night. It's a very quiet place except that every restaurant has a gasoline powered generator because there is no electricity. When they are all cranked up it can sound like Charlotte Motor Speedway. Still it's a lovely village and the people are wonderful. We have had many adventures there. Last year we found a rabbit that had swum to shore. Don't ask me from where. It had an epileptic fit and died in our room. I had also seen a smerna as wide as a telephone pole. I had caught my largest octopus ever and impaled my foot on a rock while I was trying to get him off my spear, so badly that I could barely walk for two weeks. We had become buddies with old Manolis and his son Stellios. I had even gotten a job herding anchovies. Manolis and Andreas would throw out their net from a small rowboat. While they splashed the surface with the oars I would chase the anchovies into the net. My payment was as many anchovies as I could eat in their restaurant. There were also some sponge-fishermen from Kalymnos. They would go to deep waters with their ancient diving helmets and air pumps, walking around the ocean floor, picking up octopus, which they would sell to the restaurants. They would also find these orange lichens that they would put in glass bottles with vinegar. They gave Andrea and I some to taste. It was fishier then fish. Inedible really. Every morning a fishing boat from Milos would sell its catch on the small pier right outside our window. By seeing who bought what we would decide upon where we were having dinner that evening. It was usually Manolis. He had built a huge clay pot oven that swiveled on ball bearings. Manolis was about 80 years old and always happy. He ran the clay oven and the grill. Stellios and Andreas waited on tables and Manolis wife who was deaf did the cooking, potato peeling, string-bean cutting, cleaning and everything else. They also had a farm where they got all their vegetables, chicken, pork, rabbit, goat and lamb for the restaurant.

The reason we are not going back is because we took a little day-trip there in one of the Stavros rental cars. The road was still unfinished but passable. When we got there the bay was full of sailboats. We walked around saying hello to our old friends and then went for a swim. One of the launches from a yacht was leaking fuel so badly that we could not breath from the fumes. It seemed like the whole bay was full of gasoline and that if anyone were to light a match we would all be blown to bits. It was a terrifying feeling and it polluted my love of the village. As we drove away I told Andrea that I didn't think I wanted to spend two weeks in the monastery this year. I was surprised when she agreed.

The good news is that it's getting cloudy. We actually had two days when it rained. Really rained. Like that morning I woke up and went to the dock about six because the ferry to Crete and Rhodes was due. In town it was hot and humid. At the end of the dock it was cold and rainy and people were huddled under the shelter to keep warm and dry.

Sifnos is now a 'family' island. No more camping. Lot's of older people, mostly Scandinavians at this time of summer, and plenty of kids. They all look American with NBA caps and T-shirts.

Andrea has reached her limit. Amarandi has been awful to her, telling her she doesn't love her and being cranky all the time. To say she has been difficult doesn't come near to giving the whole picture. This morning she peed all over the floor. It's like she is going backwards. She's un-growing. Getting more baby like and smaller until one night she climbs back into the womb. Maybe she is ill or just irritable because of the heat, like everyone else. When I told Amarandi that peeing on the floor was a bad thing, Andrea told me that according to 'the book' a parent should never say that in that situation because it can cause the child to revert. I felt guilty, especially when Amarandi said, "I sorry. I won't do it again". Then she made our lives miserable for the next two hours. Later, while we were sitting in front of the Stavros Hotel a pickup truck swerved and came within two inches of Amarandi. Andrea went up to the driver and spoke to him in Greek and he became completely incensed, jumping out of the truck and yelling, calling her a liar and saying this is his country and she should go back to her own. Andrea felt that I should have leapt to her defense, but what was I going to do? Yell at him in my idiot-Greek? Beat him up? In this situation there are a couple alternate approaches. The first is a campaign of slander and innuendo that causes people by the thousands to boycott his business and drive him from his beloved homeland to seek work in foreign lands where we will continue to haunt and taunt him. Or we could just forget the whole incident. There is a third option which is using the episode as yet another illustration of how screwed up things have gotten in this country. A mother protecting her child is called a liar and humiliated by the maniac who narrowly misses running them down.

But what is really bothering Andrea is the fact that several hours a day, for the last week, they have been unloading sand from a cargo ship to be used for the road to Vathi. Every five minutes one of many giant dump trucks rumbles past our balcony, through the town, past the cafes, scattering little tourist children and their horrified parents. The people of Kamares tried to get them to ban the sand boat during the tourist season but the rest of the island want it to continue, probably so they can start running hourly buses to Vathi before the end of the summer. We have this beautiful clean sea, a fantastic view of an island paradise, but the air is full of diesel fumes, which somehow find their way right into our hotel room.

Today I have two near disasters during my fishing expedition. I shoot a barbouni who falls under a rock and with his last dying breath pulls himself into a hole. I return to the surface for air and when I come back down, his tail comes floating out. Confused, I go back up for air and swim down to look in the hole. I can see the rest of the fish so I poke at it with my spear, but it's completely stuck. I think I can see an octopus holding on to it but when I look again I realized it is a large smerna (moray eel). As my spearfishing guru Michali Orphanides had told me, "You should never mess around with them. They can bite off a finger and if they are big enough, your whole hand." I take his advice swimming away and hoping the eel isn't angry enough to follow.

A little while later I am swimming near where Andrea and Amarandi are playing when Andrea calls my name. I turn my head for a second, just long enough to swim face first into a big purple jelly fish. Just as he stings me I get a severe leg cramp. I'm swearing as I swim to shore. Andrea asks what happened and I tell her to run and get the ointment we had bought for Amarandi's fifty mosquito bites. Andrea tells me to urinate on the wound. It's the traditional Greek remedy. Have you ever tried to urinate on your lip? It is literally impossible. You can lay on your back and try to pee straight in the air but for it to come down on your lip is a matter of luck.

I get out of the water and piss on my hand and rub it on the sting. It hurts but it's not unbearable. I think I will survive this encounter with what must have surely been a Portuguese Man-of-war, the most dangerous jelly fish alive. We take my six and a half fish to Kambourakis for dinner and spend the evening talking to an English couple named Judith and Tony and their twenty-one month old bilingual son Dominique as my face throbs and makes me feel like the elephant man. Tony tells me that when he saw me on our balcony, next to his, he said to his wife "My God. It's Richard Gere in the next room. And he's lost his hair.

We almost leave the following day. I wake up about four in the morning and decide maybe we should just go. Andrea has been depressed and life is getting pretty redundant in Sifnos. I have been laying in bed listening to the Old Captain's music and thinking about how Greece has become a sort of Sodom and Gomorra. I can hear people yelling and laughing in drunken pleasure and I remember how I used to enjoy acting like an animal, chasing women just to have sex with them, but how in a way my behavior always disgusted me and was therefore easy to outgrow.

I get dressed and walk to the Old Captain to get my tapes, which I had lent them to improve the quality of their nightly entertainment, so I won't have to run around looking for the key to the bar in the morning in case we actually get an early boat. Sure enough, there is Lefteris and Kyriako with two Italian girls. Both girls are dressed to kill but are staggeringly, slobbering drunk. They are all smoking away and kind of insulting each other in the manner of contemporary Greek island courtship. I think about the myth of finding true love on the Greek islands. Here it is. Two notorious kamaki guys with two tourist girls, drunk as pigs. Owning a bar in Greece is the equivalent of dealing cocaine in the states. You can have any woman you want if she is intoxicated or stupid enough.

I go to the dock to watch the boat come in. It's about four-thirty when it sails into the bay and docks up. I love watching the late night boats. It's very surreal and this one exceptionally so. When all the cars and people are unloaded, a pick-up backs up to the ramp and a group of men carry out a coffin and an enormous wreath and put it in the back of the truck. Suddenly from a large group of villagers that I haven't even noticed until now, the wailing and crying commences. I don't know who it was that they brought back to Sifnos but to bring him at that hour is very dramatic, like an execution at midnight. So with that image in my mind I walk back to the hotel to get some rest before the flies come in the morning.

Strangely enough, there are no flies, but Amarandi has wet her bed and is miserable. I suggest we pack our bags and take the Syros Express to Tinos or Syros. The only problem is that it is due in an hour and it takes Andrea at least five hours to pack. I then offer the alternative suggestion that we take the hydrofoil at twelve-thirty. This is do-able and we decide to go to Andros, an Island that neither of us has ever been to. Unfortunately the hydrofoil has been canceled for today so we are going to take the SYROS EXPRESS tomorrow at nine-forty in the morning.

Andrea tells me that she cried for two hours after that guy yelled at her yesterday and that now she is completely depressed. Last night I was still thinking about suitable responses to this person who was so rude to her, but I can't seem to come up with anything that doesn't involve violence or vandalism. Andrea tells me the guy was ready to hit her and I say if he had I would have jumped into action. She doesn't believe me. So now she has no respect for me because I didn't defend her honor. Oh well. Its just another of many reasons for Andrea to have no respect for me. Maybe I should have urinated on his tire instead of my still swollen lip.

So tomorrow another summer in Sifnos comes to an end and a period of adventure in unknown territory begins. As much adventure as a forty year old guy and his wife and daughter can have.

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