Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fun on Paxoi

Monday, 04 October

Going to bed so early was fortunate, because although I had my earplugs in and missed the whole episode, Demetrios had an experience he hadn’t known since childhood.

“Four o’clock in the morning,” he told me, “right on the dot, and every rooster in the village began crowing!” So we made up the

Roosters’ Song

E’re morning gilds the sky
Our hearts, awakening, cry
“Well, cock-a-doodle-do!”

And fortunately for you, I forget the rest of the words.

There’s no place to eat breakfast in a village the size of Gaios. Now I know what the kitchenette was for; tourists have to prepare their own breakfasts – or else stay in a real hotel that includes it. We finally had grilled cheese sandwiches and coffee and water.

Then we wandered the streets of this little place, lifted right out of the pages of a fairytale. Around every corner was another delight, a palm tree or a bougainvillea or some charming little cottage or some adorable little shop or all of the above. There were terraces where people could sit in the sun; there were balconies full of geraniums (yes, still blooming, albeit barely); there were cobbled streets and unpaved streets, and everything was very, very clean.

Then we came upon the cats. Big cats, small cats, striped cats, calico cats, tuxedo cats, tabby cats. They were all sitting around an open window, to which their eyes were glued, and their faces all spoke more eloquently than words: “Pleeease Feed Us!” I counted the cats and there were 14 of them, including the ones we had seen last night at the taverna. Excluding kittens, that was probably every feline in the village. We watched a man purchase a packet of something from the man inside the window, but we didn’t know what it was until we came closer. We should have known. Fish.

Demetrios says someone ought to paint that scene. It was priceless, all the village cats gathered around the fishmonger’s.

Gaios, the chief city on the Island of Paxoi, is peaceful, relaxing, romantic, and pretty. It is built in a crescent shape around a very blue harbor, and has a very green mini-island sitting right in front of it, dividing the harbor, so that, as in Corfu, there is an Old Port, full of small craft, and a New Port, presumably deeper, for larger vessels.

I’m not quite sure why, but it took us all morning to decide what we wanted to do. We just wandered here and there, our little carry-on bag in tow. We thought of catching the boat to Antipaxoi, which cruises around that island and comes back after a while, but it departed before we had quite made up our minds. There are also boats that go around this Island and we’re told this is the best way to see it, but the captain said he needed 150 Euros to make any profit, so to make the price reasonable, we would have to find three or four other couples to go with us, and that wouldn’t be easy, as the tourist season is about over.

The water is so clear and so gorgeous and so blue and inviting that Demetrios wanted to rent a boat and pilot it himself, but I said absolutely not. We have no idea how to steer a boat and no map of the water and no knowledge of where rocks are and other dangerous spots. NO.

Finally, emboldened by our experience on Corfu, we decided to rent a car just for the few hours we had left, to see the island. We walked into one of the dozen or so tourist offices, chosen at random, and Demetrios explained what we wanted,

“I’m sorry; I do not speak Greek,” said the woman at the desk, slowly and distinctly. “I only speak English.”

??? !!!

Okay, we spoke English.

Turns out she works for a British company and yes, they do rent cars, but their bookings are all done in advance, from the U.K. In other words, she only caters to Brits. We remembered the British couple last night had told us Paxoi was heavily promoted in the U.K., presumably as affordable. She suggested the shop next door. So we went to the tourist office next door and arranged for a very small car, manual shift, the only kind available on Paxoi.

The final paperwork was being churned out by a slow computer when Demetrios’ eye fell upon a little booklet about a well-known event that happened here at about the time of Christ, either during His life or just after His resurrection, but before Christianity came to Paxoi. It seems that a sea captain, passing this Island, wished to pay tribute to Pan, the god of Paxoi. But as he was doing his prostrations (or whatever) a deep voice boomed forth from out of one of the local caves along the shore: “The great god Pan has died. He is no more on this island.” News of this happening eventually reached the imperial court in Rome, where people debated what it should mean.

Well, this book was a record of the proceedings of some symposium that had been held concerning this event. And Demetrios wanted a copy. So our sightseeing was delayed another half hour or so while he checked the mayor’s office, whence the book had come. The mayor’s office said it was out of print, but they photocopied the whole thing for him.

Meanwhile, another British couple came into the tourist office, where I was waiting. Seeing me, they asked whether we needed accommodation for the night. Somewhat surprised at that question, I said no, and then they explained. They had seen us wandering about, towing our little suitcase, and this was the only explanation they could think of; we must be looking for a hotel. I didn’t tell them the real reason is we are just too idiotic to figure out what else we wanted to do. And too enchanted by this perfect little village.

Demetrios came back and we put the bag in the trunk of the car and the nice young man said he would meet us at three o’clock at the New Harbor where our ferry to the mainland would be docked, and he would pick up the car from us there.

So off we went, fearlessly this time, but still very carefully on account of Demetrios having no driver’s license with him. We never saw any police and even wonder whether there are any on this Island.

There are 8 miles of road on Paxoi, altogether. Well, there are of course side streets as well, but they don’t count because they don’t lead to anywhere public and even if they did, you still would not want to drive on them.

The landscape is like nothing we have ever seen before. It’s very hilly, steep but not quite mountainous, and covered with big, old, shady olive trees – and stones. Stones, stones, stones everywhere, ancient stones, carefully fitted together with no mortar. At first I thought the whole island must be full of ancient ruins, but upon more careful observation it became apparent these low walls were not foundations of buildings, but were mostly terracing. And boundary markers, and retaining walls around the olive trees. Almost every olive tree had its own little retaining wall around it to keep the soil in place. The local stone is white and honey-colored, quite beautiful, and it’s everywhere.

There is a surprising amount of new construction in progress, vacation homes, as you can tell by their isolation, because the locals like to live together in villages. The modern buildings, too, are all of stone and glass, with panoramic views of green hills and the bluer-than-blue sea.

We came to the village of Longos, where we ran out of road at the waterfront. Nuding oujr car past a couple of sidewalk cafes, we found a parking space and set off exploring the village. That took five or six minutes. It’s the very definition of picturesque, with its little harbor, only deep enough for the small boats you need here to get around in. (Whereas in some parts of the world there are as many cars as drivers, here there’s one boat for every person old enough to sail one.)

We had lunch and asked the waiter what that stone building was on the top of the hill. He said it used to be a windmill. I asked what the large thing was that looked like the ruin of a factory and he said it was where the olives used to be pressed and/or otherwise processed. Aha! So that’s what the inhabitants do when it isn’t tourist season. The olives are their other income. The olives are already quite large, although still very hard and green.

From Longos, we went to Lakka, an even tinier village with its even tinier harbor, but equally pretty.

And then it was time to head back to Gaios to meet the car rental man and our ferry to Igoumenitsa, on the mainland.


margaret said...

God bless the man who bought fish for the cats. It reminds me of St Nektarios feeding them when he was hungry himself.

I have never been to Greece (stupid me) but some of your posts remind me of Italy. The terraces, the bougainvillea, balconies of geraniums, cobbles - I often wonder what it would be like to live in a place like that. Greece must be wonderful, all that and Orthodoxy too. As much as I love Italy (and even some aspects of RCism) I always find myself looking at all the lovely things and wishing that around the next bend would be an Orthodox church.

GretchenJoanna said...

Your accounts make me more amenable to my husband's desire to travel in that part of the world...but how is it on these little islands, if one doesn't speak Greek? Are there many people who can speak English?