Posted on July 21, 2010
First published in Trespass. Catch up on my travel columns (published every Monday) here.
It is difficult to know where to start. In fact, despite being here with ample time to gaze into the distance and with ample inspiration to be struck by whilst gazing, I have been putting off writing this column with a uni-student-esque ignorance of deadlines. And it’s not because I don’t have anything to say – quite the opposite. I have too much to say; too many colours and characters and languages swirling around my sun-warmed head, to even know what words to pluck out of the bubbling mixture, in order to begin my story.
I first came to Santorini three years ago, as part of a round-the-world trip. We chose Santorini as the island to visit because we were fairly certain it was home to the famous white houses gripping the cliff faces, hanging on for dear life. We stayed for a week, most of which flowed by in a pleasant cocktail haze, and befriended an English lady who had recently bought a bar in Perissa (the village in which we were staying). We left with the offer of a job if we ever wanted to return to the island for the summer. I did. The following year. I worked a season in the bar and wrote a novel manuscript as part of my MA I was undertaking at the time – and it was one of the most brilliant periods of my life. I tripped and fell face first in love with everything about the island – the people, the food, the sun, the way of life.
So now I’m back. You always come back. You cannot leave this island not wanting to come back. Santorini casts a sun-drenched spell on most who come to watch its famous sunsets, swim in its black, red or white sand beaches. Things work at their own pace – if they ever work at all. It’s always sunny – a cloud in the sky warrants comment – and if something doesn’t get done, well, there’s always tomorrow.
Perissa, the village in which I lived last time and am, once again, living in now, is the black sand beach village, down the bottom of the island. It’s small and dusty with one long main road that runs down the middle, and a beach front road that runs parallel. A huge rock with a tiny church perched on it, separates Perissa from Kamari, the neighbouring white sand beach. You can reach Kamari by a rickety looking boat that leaves throughout the day and requires one getting very wet to hop on board. In Perissa, everybody knows everybody. Everybody knows everything. Nobody ever forgets. You learn, as I did the last summer I was here, to avoid drama – although, in Greece, nay, in a small Greek village, that can be incredibly challenging; if no drama exists to dissect over frappes, then some shall simply be created. Conversation fodder is as important as the air you breathe.
As much as it is the beauty and simple, slow motion lifestyle of Santorini I love and revel in when I’m here, it is the people I keep coming back for. The layers of inhabitants work something like this; true locals who live on the island year-round, season-locals who come out from May until October, spending Winter in Athens or other places and then the travelling workers. Within the travelling workers, there are the young ones who exist to get drunk every single night (not hard in the land of the free-pour and non existent RSA) the slightly older ones who don’t get drunk as often and are usually working to sustain a trip or save up for the next one, and then there are the ones who have worked so many summers, they are essentially locals – their Greek a little stilted – but their knowledge of the island and the mercurial way people work, thorough and borne of experience.
So, welcome to the island. I’ll be here for a little while, sitting at the bar with Dimitris (one tooth, a smoker’s laugh and a vast array of Hawaiian shirts) watching Santorini go by. There will be sunsets and midnight swims, plenty of food and a cast of characters that may have to be met to be believed. And if that means a trip to Santorini, don’t say I didn’t warn you. You won’t want to leave.