Petrichor

raining

Every morning I’m greeted by Platon’s loving stare, as he patiently waits for me to join him in celebrating the day ahead as an opportunity for affection and adventure, with a dose of mischief mixed in for good measure. Today as I woke, I became aware of a warm weight, resting on my hip bone, and opening my eyes found his deep pools of love staring back at me, above the chin planted firmly on my hip. I recently taught him to put his chin on me rather than paw me for attention, as my bare legs in shorts were getting a bit scratched and bruised. As I curled round to cuddle him, he rolled over playfully, accepting a tummy tickle with a stretch, before coyly placing his paws over his face and burrowing into me. Each day I am so grateful for this big bundle of love, in the shape of a not-so-little puppy.

After some cuddles and a quick game where I hide one of Platon’s chews under the many pillows for him to hunt and recover, we got up for coffee. This morning was cooler than usual, with some fluffy clouds and a mist over the sea. So rather than habitually heading off to a beach on the west of the island, I decided to take advantage of the cooler weather and walk down the winding road on the eastern sunrise side, to another small beach facing Ithaca (our neighbouring island).

The walk downhill enjoys beautiful views of the channel of sea between the islands, often busy with sail boats, crisp white triangles dotted against the deep blue water; and little tourist boats for hire, hugging the shoreline looking for secluded beaches, a plume of wake trailing behind them. Today however there was less ‘traffic’, and the cotton-wool clouds cast shadows, dappled on the rippling sunlit surface. Platon trotted jauntily on the lead, pausing frequently to sniff the interesting hedgerows, and we admired the hardy geraniums on top of lichen covered stone walls, amidst the long dry grasses and dense bushes. This island is much greener than many of the Greek islands, with lush vegetation covering much of the mountains, lots of olive and cedar trees, as well as an indigenous pine and evergreen oak trees, that run right down to the sea.

We had barely passed through the next village to ours, when Minas stopped in his passing car to offer us a lift, which I accepted more for his company than a rush to get to the beach, as it’s rare to see him away from his post surveying his popular restaurant in the square. Platon refused steadfastly to sit in the back with the tiles, off cuts of wood and other scary building materials, opting instead to share the passenger seat on my lap, with his nose on the windscreen, and a paw on our driver. He is not a small dog, and at almost 30kg quite a load, as his paws dig into my bare legs, searching for balance. Minas is my favourite grumpy Greek, his dry wit and satire are a hard shell disguising his soft, squishy centre. As he barks complaints at his staff, only the sparkle in his eyes gives him away, that and the loyalty of waiters who remain, and return each season to be chided again. He loves Platonas with the broken heart of someone whom has loved and lost a dear dog, unable to contemplate replacing the irreplaceable. He understands the indescribable connection of unconditional love and uncompromised trust, between a canine and his person. He chatted to Platon, encouraging his barking as we passed dogs in their gardens, and on arrival at the beach asked him for a kiss, before turning his car around to go back to where we came from, so I realize the lift was a gift for all of us, not simply a convenience as if we were heading in the same direction.

Once at the beach, Platon ran through the olive trees to sniff at the shoreline, running away from the boisterous waves as if being chased, and returning again to play the game. We played chase, taking it in turns to pursue each other, and ‘breakfast’, where I throw his kibble just above his head for him to jump and catch. As we both started to tire, we made our way to the nearby Taverna for a bottle of water, and started back up the hill as the skies gradually darkened. There is a footpath, steps cut into the steep woodland, favoured by shepherds and their flocks. Often I walk down on the winding road and back through woods, but today Platon wasn’t keen on sniffing goat smells, and the rumble of thunder convinced me the road was perhaps a better bet. Platon isn’t afraid of thunder, ‘just Zeus moving the furniture’ as my friend Hilda describes it, or even the lightening that cracks like a stinging whip and flashes dramatically; but heavy rain is another matter entirely.

It started slowly enough, just as Nikos and Panagis passed us in their van, smiling and waving. Big heavy drops, landing noisily and then rapidly, turning the steep road into a fast running river, with all the olive tree leaves ‘dancing’ as the drops bounced off them. We trotted up the hill, waving at our friend from the beach, (the little mermaid’s grandfather), as he passed with a car full of grandchildren, and the water delivery tanker, who honked his horn loudly as we waited on the verge of the narrow lane, dripping. After so long without rain, the earth welcomed the storm with a wonderfully aromatic celebration, richly fragranced with the refreshing wild thyme that grows on the side of the road, as if it has exhaled a scented sigh in gratitude. Petrichor is the name of this aroma of rainfall on dry earth, and is derived from Greek (but of course!), Petra meaning stone, and ichor which is apparently a golden fluid that flows through the veins of the gods, an immortal substitute for blood; the knowledge of this makes it smell even more deliciously pungent for me.

As the rivulets of rain ran down the back of my neck, and pooled in my Birkenstocks, the tropical downpour suddenly felt as if someone had opened the faucet fully, as I struggled to see amid the drenching. Platon distinctly decided enough was enough, and scuttled under a bush at the roadside, lying prone, chin on the ground between his paws, refusing to move on the end of his lead. I however, would not fit under the bush, and just as I was calculating how far we had to go, the little mermaid’s grandfather returned in his car, after dropping off his grandchildren, to collect us, with a towel on the back seat. Initially Platon stayed stubbornly under the bush, but eventually allowed me, begrudgingly to lift him in to the car, for some unknown reason diesel engines frighten him, although I personally couldn’t hear much above the sound of the rain hammering. I held on to him, soaked to the skin in my vest and shorts, as our kind friend drove us right to our home, very grateful and sopping wet. Platon then didn’t want to get out the car, but as soon as I hauled him off the back seat, he darted up the steps and scratched impatiently at the door, as I followed hot on his heels with the key, shouting my thanks as we dashed. Once inside he ran straight to his favourite rug, and settled down prone again, into a position I recognise as a peaceful protest, otherwise known as downright stubbornness, and hopelessly immovable. I stood laughing and dripping all over the floor, whilst he watched me quickly find towels to mop up, and then relented because of his love of being rubbed dry, and a game that involves him hiding under the towel and blindly leaning into me.

After a quick hot shower, and a steaming cup of Jasmine tea, we’re snuggled up on the sofa together as I write, meanwhile the storm has blown over, the sun is shining, and the laundry is ready to be hung out again. I hope that wherever you are, whatever your weather, that you’re having a beautiful day; and if you’re not, remember that however bad the storm is, the sun will always shine again. Lots of love & blessings, H&P xx

Photo via Pinterest, sadly uncredited. Words ~Hayley Darby ©2015

Morning treasure

P beach bye

I woke early to the sound of Platonas ‘talking’, somewhere between a growl and a bark, a funny un-imposing noise he makes to get my attention; insistent but less demanding than barking. He sometimes employs this noise when he’s impatient (for a tidbit whilst I’m eating), or when I am talking (and he’d rather be playing), and sometimes (and in this instance), because he wants/ needs me to help him, (if a ball is out of reach under the sofa, or this morning, to open the bedroom door, so he can ring the bell on the main door), because he needs the toilet. I rolled over and gave him the ‘are you serious?’ look; which he returned with the ‘do I look like I’m joking?’ stare. So I grabbed a cardigan to fling over my baby-doll nightdress, shuffled into my Birkenstocks, and ruffled his ears, before opening the door to oblige him; looking like a huge fashion fail, admittedly. 6am is a mercifully, delicious cool time of day here; frequented by anyone with manual labour/ exercise chores to avoid the heat once the sun has fully risen. Luckily we didn’t bump into anyone as we descended the stairs into the garden, and I admired the fragile light of the sun rising over the brow of Ithaca’s mountains across the channel of peaceful sea, suddenly grateful rather than grumpy for the sleep interruption. Platon however, wasn’t bothered with hanging around to see the sunlight spill onto the water, turning it into molten gold before us; instead turning tail as soon as he was ready, scampering up the stairs to resume his position in slumberland. I followed suit, watching the green of the forest intensify in the increasing light, beyond the bedroom balcony, as the sun steadily rose, and I fell asleep again.

When I woke later, Platon was by my side, sniffing my face, and dropping into a deep play bow invitation to engage as soon as I opened my eyes. We have missed the beach for a few days (due to a necessary trip to the main town, and waiting for the Greek telecom engineer to finally install an internet connection -yayyy!), so we were both keen to get up and embrace the opportunity; but after coffee, naturally! Platon lay on the sofa patiently watching, his chin propped up on the cushions, as I prepared the coffee pot and fluffed the milk. Mornings have always been my favourite time of day (well since school days anyway!), but even more so now that they involve snuggling with my beloved, as we share biscotti. As soon as the last drop of coffee was finished, I quickly changed into a bikini and beach dress, grabbing water and snacks for Platon, and we raced to the car for our morning concert.

The concert starts every day as we leave the drive, Platon barks non-stop for the whole journey from home to the beach, mercifully only 12 minutes as we carefully navigate 3 miles of winding road, down the hillside. The barking goes up a gear when we get to the crossroads at the next village, as I take the road straight ahead, confirming our destination; from there it seems Platon is calling all the other dogs in the area, and they reply in a cacophony of canine greeting. I have apologised many times to everyone I know that lives en route, for the early morning bark-alarm; thankfully everyone I know is very understanding! As we approach a t-junction, we often see Gerasimos, an elderly man with one hand and poor sight, sitting in the shade, who doubtless hears us coming! I always pause the car to say ‘kalimera’ and make polite conversation about the weather, usually in Greek, but he sometimes amuses me by replying in French. I always imagined this was just to change things up on our daily greeting, until recently he noticed the driving wheel was on the right ‘like an English car’. When I explained this was indeed what it is, as I have driven from England, he exclaimed ‘but I thought you were French!!?!?’, which made me laugh, but I took it as a compliment, as there is a very glamorous French lady who owns a villa nearby, so the confusion is flattering. We always chuckle about ‘the concert’, before bidding each other well, and me continuing on the road to save the poor man’s ears from bleeding.

Meanwhile Platon’s impatient barks escalate, and continue to rapidly climb the gears it seems, as we traverse each hair-pin bend to the beach. It is pointless trying to prevent the pure excitement that erupts from his soul, getting faster and shriller in direct correlation with our descent. He is simply bursting with enthusiasm, and cannot help himself, as he bounces around the boot, eventually emitting a high pitched squeaking as the sea glimmers enticingly into view. Often Platon’s friend ‘Blue’, (whose human owns the beach bar), is waiting in the road to greet us, but today we are early, the bar isn’t open, and a lone moped is parked in the shade.

Platon exerts excellent discipline when I open the door, waiting for my release command before leaping gracefully, and careering off down the steps to the beach. I am very strict about this, making him wait in the car if he breaks the ‘wait’ command, as in London the traffic is too dangerous to risk such behaviour. He cries, and kisses my face, trying to charm me to appease his impatience, until I release him and he disappears as if I don’t exist, for a second or two at least. Today we met Coralia at the beach, a beautiful 5-year-old Greek Goddess, and her Grandfather. They are swimming and splashing each other, the little mermaid totally confident in the sparkling waves of aquamarine and sapphire. Coralia, emerged from the water to throw the ball in for Platon to retrieve, and helped him dig in the sand, looking for Australia. Meanwhile her grandfather told me approvingly that a canine companion was less trouble and often more loving than a spouse or children. We laughed, as he is blessed with a happy marriage and a loving family, as well as his loyal golden retriever. He told me his dog’s name is ‘Ricco’ meaning rich, before quickly assuring me he isn’t wealthy, but that the dog fills his heart; which is after all the most important type of treasure to behold. And I am struck by this man, whose country is struggling in dire financial crisis, who plays with his giggling granddaughter, on a fine sunny morning, on beautiful beach surrounded by dramatically proud rock formations, as the sun dances like diamonds on the clearest sea; and I know that the riches of Greece are not in the bank, they are in the hearts of the people who love her, and they will always be, whatever happens to the economy.

Wishing you a beautiful day wherever you are, and an attitude of abundance, whatever your situation! Hxx

Photo: ‘Platon at the beach’, and words ~ Me! Hayley Darby © 2015

Waiting for the storm..

waiting

Today I woke late (again), to find that moody grey clouds, which hung heavily over the port, had replaced the sunny blue skies of yesterday. The almost glassy still waters had morphed into choppy waves that caused the yachts to bob up and down, jostling for a safe mooring; indeed many local boats have been removed from the water completely. We are waiting for a storm, and the storms we get here are quite a spectacle, trust me! They are fierce, dramatic, exciting, beautiful, and oh so humbling; a real reminder of how impuissant our existence is on this planet when nature unleashes her energy to the sound of Zeus’ wrath. Or as my dear friend Hilda says of the thunder, “There goes Zeus moving the furniture around upstairs again!”

I wandered around the quay, finding Kostas in much better shape than yesterday, in fact he informs me that rather than ‘better’ he’s in fine form; quite a spectacular recovery! We sat on the deck watching the storm come in with our cappuccinos and shared traditional pastries from the local bakery. The change in weather means more work for the locals, as umbrellas and canopies are tied down, outdoor seating (which makes up the majority) is stripped of its upholstery, and anything that’s not nailed down is stowed away securely. The bars and cafes are also preparing to be busy, as we all cram in to the limited space when the rain starts, to sit out the storm in relative comfort with company. Meanwhile the visiting flotillas linger in the harbour, rather than risk the white-capped waves that wait beyond the lighthouse, as their crews sit on deck patiently waiting.

I spent the day visiting friends, lunching with the lovely Tselenti family at the big house on the hill, MT having cooked a feast for her mother and 4 brothers, who all tucked in heartily, between shifts managing their two hotels. I called in to see my oldest friend ‘Speridoula’ and my special friend Phoebus at the taverna with the best view across to the neighbouring island. When we met 14 years ago, Speri didn’t speak much English, and I certainly didn’t speak any Greek, but we quickly became firm friends based on some serious feet-stamping laughter and a twinkle in the eyes that made words completely unnecessary. Now we manage quite decent conversations, despite poor grammar and including much gesticulation, which is an amusing and beautiful testament to our friendship. Phoebus is one of the most determined and inspiring souls I know, he suffered a life changing moped accident years ago that left him severely disabled, unable to control his body including his speech and capacity to manage tasks we so often take for granted such as dressing, eating, or bathing unaided. He is such a brave, patient, courageous soul, and I adore him. Today we hugged and laughed, and I felt his strength emanate from his body, he improves each time I see him, slowly but doggedly determined to stand on his own two feet again.

The air is thick and heavy, but it’s still warm despite the breeze that tugs at the awnings and canopies; the dark sky has been threatening rain for hours and I have been holed up in a favourite patisserie with my laptop, in anticipation of the rain that slashes horizontally. Several cups of coffee and pots of tea later, the light is fading and just as I wonder whether the storm will pass by uneventfully, the distant rumble of thunder creeps into the chilled out music currently playing.

I am not a patient creature by nature, which doesn’t always work out best for me, but some things simply cannot be hurried, and life seems to teach that acceptance is key. Aristotle reminds us that ‘patience is bitter, but the fruit is sweet’. So as I wonder how soon I will sink my teeth into the soft flesh to release the juiciest pleasure, lightening fills the sky, flashing across the water; followed by much closer, quickly advancing thunder, and a dirty great grin creeps right across my happy face.. oh I DO love a storm!! The clouds have crept in, hanging heavy and low, almost obscuring our neighbouring island. The temperature has distinctly dropped a few degrees, but I am still comfortable in my shorts & vest, after all the less I wear, the less laundry will be necessary. Skin is certainly a fantastic design element of the human body; thermostat controlled and wipe dry, perfectly suited to dancing in the rain, maybe! In all probability we will lose internet connection soon, so I will post this and just let you know I’m barefoot and ready. “Bring it on Zeus, I’m in the mood for dancing, just throw the rain at me!” ☺ Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

My favourite slice of paradise

PN Kef emblisi pic

I awoke late by the Greek clock, early by the British hour, and my waking thought searched for that peaceful presence, that occupies a space in my heart recently encountered. I had been wandering along, feeling remarkably carefree and unsuspecting of the impending intrusion, and am left floating in the uncertain ocean of possibility, a place I have learned to embrace passionately, for after all it is full of infinite beauty, if we choose to see it.

I eventually found my body, having previously only been aware of my internal territory, and noticed the disparate relationship of my physical topography and the typically unyielding mattress of my austere Greek bed. Sounds of the port slipped through the shutters with the slices of light that had spilt across the crumpled sheet, wrapped around my legs, entwined in a memory. Sighing I summoned some strength and managed to inspire millions of motor neurons to move my body, in order to check the fluctuating Internet status of my abode by opening my emails. I read those I wanted, then sank back into my repose to process my findings until coffee called me, when I dressed swiftly in a faithful pair of denim shorts and vest, to bound down the stairs to greet the lively port and all the characters that make this particular slice of paradise so precious to me.

I wandered around the quay greeting friendly faces and answering the familiar questions (What took you so long? Where have you been? How long are you staying?), until I found Kosta in the quiet shade of his bar, whilst the staff served the tables outside as quietly as possible, so as not to aggravate his hangover. His face cracked into the most beautiful smile of recognition before his headache sharply reminded him of his condition. We laughed at life and hugged tightly despite his temporary fragility, catching up over a cappuccino (me) and water (he), sharing traditional pastries from the local bakery. Aggeliki lived up to her angelic moniker and administered her magical massage to the troublesome spot of Kostas neck that feels the tightest, and we lamented the consequences of age combined with the youthful behaviour of his crazy parties. Kosta surrendered to his struggling body and retired to bed, Aggeliki resumed her responsibilities at the bar, and I sat outside figuring there are worse places to contemplate ones indulgence in temptation, as the cheerful sunshine drenched the peaceful port, illuminating it’s beauty as boats gently traversed the glassy water.

After a while I left my seat on the balcony in search of the preciously acute and hilariously dry observations of Minas. He customarily spends the majority of the day at his favourite table, surveying his restaurant. Surrounded by his team of waiters, he called out across the square at my approach, heralding my arrival for anyone within 100m, and nursing his coke zero assured me that his diabetes is behaving lately. We discussed local politics and recounted stories of our shared histories, noting the changes and lamenting absent friends. We watched the life of the square and Minas’ grumbled for my entertainment, enjoying the audience for acknowledgement of his unique and frequently extreme viewpoints. I left Minas with a cheerful smile with a kiss for the orange juice, and walked around the corner to find Angelos in his office.

Angelos is a serious young man with the weight of responsibility resting on his shoulders, and a photo of his father smiling from beyond the grave on his desk. Our comprehension of the passage of time and our confusion over the specific years in which events occurred, served to remind us of the accelerated speed of time that age bestows upon us. Although at least a year younger than I (and a quarter of a century than Minas), he always makes me feel juvenile with my independent adventures in contrast to his empire building vocation. We put the world to rights, and he tells me to keep travelling and bringing home my stories for his enjoyment. I left him with promises to visit his mother soon and sent some love to his wife and children before sauntering back along the quay with an undeniable hunger for my darling, the sea.

As luck would have it, Makis had a similar craving, so when I popped into the shop on my way back to the apartment, he offered me a lift to his favourite beach; allowing me a quick change of clothes as he sat impatiently with the engine running. The car curled expertly into the curves of the road, just a short distance before our descent amongst the fragrant pines towards the turquoise water sitting, waiting, assuredly faithful, for our adoration. Makis changed in the car, and it was my turn to be impatient as I rushed towards the deliciousness. I paused momentarily to drop my bag on the beach and swap my ray bans for Cressi goggles, before hastily stepping into the water, saving my entering breath to exhale below the surface.

The crystal clear water engulfed me, and it felt as if anything other than bliss was cleansed from my soul, instantly revealing the clarity of this privilege. I swam towards the shelf, clearly marked by the line where aquamarine meets turquoise, inhabited by numerous fish that swim unafraid of the human company that dips into their world. I took a moment to float like a starfish in gratitude, to feel the surface tickle my sun kissed skin, feeling supported by the powerful entity in its reassuring calmness. Having spent the summer in California, enchanted by the ocean, my heart has still pined for my true ‘agapi’, the Ionian sea, with it’s gentle caress and beautiful hues of the heavenly blue spectrum. I submerged completely; lost in that peace that resides within and felt my physiology sigh thankfully, as does the heart in the embrace of a previously estranged lover. I noted my slowed pulse and that internal tranquility one finds when gratitude obliterates any other emotion, before breaking the surface to breathe in deeply the joy of living. I swam across the bay, much to the amusements of Greeks who tend to swim straight out into the darker deeper waters, beyond the rocks and around to neighbouring bays, whilst I cause disruption to the traffic system since I wasn’t born by the water and lack their confidence. I soon found my rhythm, breathing deeply for the long strokes my lengthy limbs prefer, and smiled at the un-phased fish, which loitered nonchalantly in my pathway, showing off their magnificent iridescence in the piercing sun beams. I finished my dip, resuming the star-fish floating position for my finale, before joining Makis and his sister on the beach to top up my tan as the sun sat high above the shady olive trees.

Makis returned to the shop, leaving his towel and flippers for his girlfriend Nancy, who appeared for her swim, bravely venturing beyond the visible rocks, before settling on the beach and into the conversation amongst the locals whose children played at the shoreline. I let the language waft over me as I lay under my panama, feeling the heat on my skin and remembering vocabulary and other trips. My thoughts wandered away from the beach and retraced some recent adventures, exploring new territory and chambers of my heart, slipping through the layers of awareness and comprehension, desire and vulnerability. The afternoon drifted by, as the shade inched towards the shoreline, soon eclipsing the beach, cooling my salt dried skin. Yaya, a French friend that runs the diving school, kindly gave me a lift back to the port, and I wandered down the steps smiling as I noticed my shoulders have dropped several inches after my sea-bathing. I encountered Nikos & Themis passing the bar, and admitted that I’d cheated on the Greek sea with the Pacific Ocean, but that my heart was ‘home’ again, laughing as they teased me good naturedly, but promising to join them for the last buffet at The Thai restaurant. It’s the end of the season here, and as tourism cools, businesses close for the winter. For me it’s the best time to visit; the port is returned to the locals, and as they untie themselves from their shops, bars and restaurants, they have time to relax and enjoy it again.

I’m writing in the port, replete after my Thai dinner and catching up with Anna & Pete (who tend to collectively know all the news in the village). I found a sweet spot at Le Passage, beautiful Eleni’s new business venture, which reflects her chic style and sweet nature, as well as her family’s famous restaurant for locals in the village up the hill. As I sip my tea (Jasmine) looking out over the still dark water, it reflects the pretty lights of the port in a perfectly mirrored image. The yachts are lined up and sit obediently waiting for adventures tomorrow, and the impressive private cruisers jostle for pole position for admiration along the quay. Passing friends greet me with hugs of welcome, and acquaintances nod in recognition; they know that this is my favourite slice of heaven on earth, and that I wherever I travel, I will always find a way ‘home’ again. I have had a gorgeous day, and I have more of the same to look forward to again tomorrow : )) Evlogimeni eimai (I’m blessed) !!

I hope that wherever you are, that you have an opportunity to appreciate your environment and spend time with people that enhance your being too. Blessings & filakia (kisses) ❤ Hxx

{Photo of my slice of Paradise 🙂 Words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}