The olive men came today with their nets and their chainsaws, rupturing my Sunday with loud buzzing, shouted instructions and much laughter.
Not before time, as the the ripe olives have been silently dropping with purple thuds, staining stone and plastic alike for a week or so now.
Where do they come from, the olive men and women, and who calls them? How do they know it’s the right time for this tree or that? Perhaps there is a secret schedule they follow, hundreds of years old, arriving to clear a grove at a time and then haul the sacks to the press.
Unlike the wood men who have to be summoned by telephone through the local taverna owner, he who knows someone who can help with just about anything. The order goes “One trailer load please, smaller pieces please, not “wet” wood please, as it’s a wood burning stove”.
Then you wait, knowing they’ll deliver with no notice just when you decide to head out down the village, or when you don’t have the cash in the house, or when it’s raining in the bibical fashion it does round here, but they deliver anyway and if you are not there, stack it just where they please and come back for the money.
“Come” my neighbour said as she stood at my front door. “Come and see the fun, they are trying to get to the trees in the ravine and are clambering about like monkeys”.
No chance, I’ve heard your stories of how they suck you in with tales of fun, then you are trapped for several days by your own personal sense of commitment, leaving you stiff and broken for a week after, by the unaccustomed hard work.
Looking out of the window in one of my coffee breaks, I saw new faces, both men and women, strangers who must have come for the picking season.
They leave my garden bare and tidy, taking nets of olives with them, leaving branches to be burned. I’m not sure who will return to do this, I’m confident someone will. Our little houses sit in the middle of olive groves of great antiquity, people have been following the seasons in this very spot for over 3000 years.
Last year, when I first arrived, I remember a big fire with much smoke and all the local men, Greek and English laughing together, revelling in the flames the way men do, around bonfires, barbecues and sports events.
Later, I walked my rubbish and recycling down the hill, followed by a black and white cat sporting a collar but acting hungry, confident he’s found a new owner. My rubbish attracts him like diamonds but as we pass the chickens with their gut-wrenching scents, the cat peels away silently as we reach the part of the road where the guard dogs live. He knows the limits of his territory.
I hurled my recycling into the bins outside my friends’ house, a source of endless annoyance to the owner. Unlike the locals I virtuously continue to the main bins, studiously ignored by the municipality now that the tourists have departed with the last charter flight.
I sat for a while by the dual churches to catch my breath, one tiny and ancient, the other much bigger, sporting modern stained glass but the stonework unfinished due to lack of funds, imagining the days gone past when the square outside the church would have been filled with village ladies catching up on the news.
They have moved on to the seats on the new promenade and like them, I am drawn next to the deserted beach flanked by sleeping tavernas, all bare tables and plastic shrouds to protect from the occasional winds.
The old people still pace the streets slowly, the men zipped firmly into anoraks and large hairy shawls clutched around the shoulders of the old ladies.
“Kali Spera!” I say cheerfully to every single one, to dispel the awkwardness of being the only other person on the street. They respond in kind, but in surprise, used to being invisible in the throngs of summer visitors.
The empty beach is being gently pounded by the waves, smoothing the summer footsteps away, creating lace at the edges of each wave from the torn up seaweed. The last remaining broken sunbeds huddle against the sea wall, waiting to be dragged off by the scrap metal man, tossed onto his flatbed truck with the ubiquitous loudspeaker.
Red and pink streaks wound the sky as the sun sinks with a silent sigh behind the mountains of the next peninsula. The gloom deepens as I walk slowly towards the middle stretch, where the lights of the two remaining cafes and the sell-all supermarket twinkle gamely against the fast-moving dark.
The first taverna shelters some English friends but I am not ready for direct conversation yet, I’ve been editing podcasts all day and I need to ease myself in gently. I need bright lights, local chatter and some funky music. The taverna favoured by the local Brits tends to play laid-back music from the ‘60’s to cater for the older clientele, while the second is firmly catering to the young locals. I like this place, it takes years off me.
Midweek this sophisticated bar shapes-shifts back into a traditional kafenion, filled with men watching sport, mulling over their strong coffee and playing the local version of backgammon. But at weekends it’s full of locals in their late teens, early twenties, enjoying the lights, music and laughter, which never fails to remind me that life will explode in the sleepy village once more come Easter.
Today it’s full of familiar faces, who work behind bars and serve tables in the summer. I’m greeted cheerfully as I fumble through my responses then sit in a seat with my back to a wall, not too near a loudspeaker or one of the big flat screen televisions, where I can happily people watch. Eleni knows my winter order, hot Nescafe with “milk and medium sugar”, so it arrives promptly.
Makeup free girls who would give Helen Of Troy a run for her money, sporting designer casual wear and ponytails, are comparing notes on phones and pretending to ignore the boy-men, who sport an entertaining array of facial hair in spite of never having heard of Movember!
I sip my coffee and dip my wafer thin Amaretti biscuit, neatly lining up the tools of my trade on the table. One book to read, a Moleskine notebook to write in if the urge takes me, my mobile phone ready to catch text messages from my family or Shazam any particularly funky tunes.
I sit alone but not lonely, marvelling at the latest goddess-like addition to the waiting staff. I’m sure she’s not gone unnoticed by the young men or the older ones who sit outside, unwilling to be subjected to the relentless, but surprisingly tasteful, pop music, nursing their strong coffee and later ouzo. They stare at the sea, enigmatically, as greek men have in tavernas for thousands of years, occasionally grunting greetings at each other as another arrives.
Sometimes I order a glass of rose here, especially if there’s a match on and it fills up but more usually, as the late afternoon wears on, the lure of my own language and the company of my fellow Brits become stronger. Pausing for some essential supplies from the supermarket, while avoiding the demonic parrot-in-residence, Takis, I walk slowly to the second taverna and sit at one of the side tables, ordering my customary “tetato” of rose, now ready and willing for a chat.
I’m enjoying simple pleasures, concentrating on living in the moment, slowing my brain down and appreciating my surroundings by noticing every little thing. I focus determinedly on slipping seamlessly into the endless movement of time, pacing the seasons rolling on relentlessly, feeling part of it all and part of the bigger picture.
These are the things that keep me sane as I piece together my new life, as I rediscover what I enjoy doing, what makes me happy now. In this tiny, comforting place, sheltered by the sea and the mountains, I’m slowly learning to live again, one quiet Sunday at a time.