Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weekend in Stavros

Sunday, 18 September

Leonidas and Ianna invited us to his village, called Stavros (Cross). At 9:00 Saturday morning, we were waiting for them on the corner near our house and they pulled up to fetch us, Ianna in a tee shirt and what we used to call pedal pushers; there must be a more up-to-date name for them now? Three-quarter-length slacks but somewhat loose, unlike Capri pants. Leonidas was wearing plaid shorts and an undershirt, the sleeveless kind Demetrios calls a vest. We felt quite over dressed.

Anyway, it was a glorious day, although hot, and an hour later we had arrived at their little house in Stavros.

Stavros is a little seaside town divided into two parts, Upper Stavros and Lower Stavros. Originally they were two separate villages; the upper village, set in the heights, where the original inhabitants lived, and the lower village, established and populated by refugees from Turkey, strung out along the bay. Now it’s one village, earning its living mostly by tourism. It’s the sort of place people, mostly from northeastern Europe, come to for an affordable holiday. They arrive by bus once a week and spend their seven days swimming in the warm sea, soaking up the sun and acquiring tans as a non-verbal form of bragging back home, and sampling the local eateries. Shops sell things like swimsuits and beach balls and summer clothing and jewelry and trinkets, postcards and souvenirs.

Leonidas and Ianna do have air conditioning in their wee house, thank goodness, but in my opinion it was never needed. It was turned on from time to time anyway, but the house sort of miraculously stayed cool the whole time, partly because of the sea breeze, and partly because it sits in the shade of several trees.

The house started out as an entry hall with a kitchen/eating area on the right and a bedroom/sitting room on the left. Later, Leonidas and Ianna added the rest; they extended the hall and put two more bedrooms on the right, behind the kitchen, and a living room and bathroom on the left. Demetrios says it’s a pre-fabricated house, but you’d certainly never know it. It looks like any other traditional Greek home.

The first thing we did was go for a swim. Well, Demetrios does not swim, neither in the sea nor in a pool. He always considers things like dolphins and whales and other sea creatures and humans, and what they all put out into the water. He thinks, “microbes”. So he stayed home and napped, while the rest of us spent an hour in the clear, warm, placid water.

Ianna says you should swim before mid-afternoon, because by then the wind picks up and waves develop, “As you can already begin to see,” said she, and sure enough, there were small indentations in the water that were beginning to look and sound (but not feel) suspiciously like waves. Ha! It’s not exactly like the Atlantic, is it, where the surf comes crashing down and you can hear it a block or more away and the waves tumble you about.

Once in a while, if my feet were at the bottom, I could feel something like a stone in the sand. I’d bring it up by curling my toes around it, and it would turn out to be some sort of sea snail. I actually found two different species of shellfish that way. Leonidas says people eat them, especially these days. We just tossed them away.

“Perhaps the last swim,” said Leonidas. Why, I asked? Well, because it’s September, of course. Never mind the air is hot, the sand is warm between your toes, the water is only cool enough to be moderately refreshing. It’s September! Who swims in September? Tourists only, from cold places like Russia, so to them it still seems like swimming season.

After our showers, Leonidas went straight to work in his glorious garden – at least an acre, full of flowers and shrubs and trees, but mostly flowers and more flowers – while the rest of us sacked out. And we slept a couple of hours, I suppose. When at last we awoke, Ianna had the midday meal all prepared: spaghetti and salad and Greek bread. Watermelon for dessert, and ice cream.

In the evening, Ianna lit the mosquito burners, we anointed ourselves with insect repellent, Leonidas turned on his electric picture, and we all sat out on the balcony. Leonidas’ picture hangs in the balcony because Ianna won’t have it in the house. It’s a color photograph, on glass and with a mirrored frame, of an autumn scene featuring a stream and a mill. When you flick the switch, the picture lights up, the millstream seems to flow, and you can hear the water flowing and birds singing. Leonidas gets upset, Ianna says, when his 15-month-old grandson visits, because the child goes to bed before Leonidas turns on the picture.

“Why doesn’t he just light it earlier?”

“Because that’s when his favorite soap opera airs, and he has to wait until that’s over.”

After a while, we went to visit one of Leonidas’ sisters, Soula. Demetrios and I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years, and I was extra glad to see her again because I had made her a pretty, lacy scarf, which I was finally able to give her. We sat on a patio outside her house, beside the window of the shop that sells either women’s swimsuits or lingerie; I’m not sure if those microscopic get-ups are meant for the beach or the bedroom; they’d be daring in either place. Anyway, there we sat and Soula served us some cherry preserves she had made, on tiny glass plates with fancy spoons, on a tray lined with a gorgeous crochet doily her mother (and Leonidas’) had made. (I spent some time staring at it to figure out how it had been constructed, and now I think I shall try to copy it sometime.) We of course waved and spoke to various others of their relatives as they happened by.

We saw very few cats. Leonidas says the cats in this village are spoiled; they won’t touch fish unless it’s first fried or broiled, and they don’t eat mice, either.

Along about ten o’clock we went to find some supper in an outdoor café by the lit-up fountain, encountering two more of Leonidas’ sisters, Bebe and Freedom (“Eleutheria”) and various other kith and kin whose precise relationship with Leonidas I don’t know. And of course, as we went along, Demetrios dispensed miscellaneous bits of medical advice here and there. I told him later we should move here, and he could set up a clinic and charge a very nominal fee and get rich. “Five Euros per visit should do it,” he laughed. Really, it would be a lot of fun to live here, amid Leonidas’ 76 first cousins (no exaggeration!) and his various nieces and nephews and other relatives; we’d have an enormous, ready-made family! And if any villagers aren’t Leonidas’ actual kin, they’re still connected in various ways; e.g., “That’s the woman whose son moved in with Bebe’s daughter.”

No idea what time it was when we went to bed, but we went straight to sleep. The bed was very comfortable, but I had such nightmares as are virtually unspeakable; Demetrios also groaned and cried out all night, and snored more loudly than I’ve ever heard before. (Doesn’t much bother me; I wear ear-plugs, but Leonidas commented upon it in the morning.)

Sometime around seven-thirty, Leonidas, from outdoors, opened our shutter to let in the sunlight, to awaken us.

Of the four of us, half made it to church and the other half didn’t, but let us not name names.

Afterwards, our host and hostess very kindly offered to take me for another dip in the sea, and we had a beautiful day for it, but as I could see they didn’t really want to, it being September and all, I declined the offer.

Leonidas has signed up for a tour leaving here (Stavros) this coming Saturday. They’re going to Bulgaria. Ianna is terribly worried, because Bulgaria, though it’s in the EU, isn’t even in the Eurozone, and presumably not part of the health care system. What will happen if Leonidas starts having trouble with his heart again? There isn’t even a city there with a major airport.

Ianna feels that if he goes, she will have to come, because if anything bad should happen, everyone including herself would blame her for not having been there, for letting him go alone. But she has bad knees, knees that need replacing, but her doctors are making her wait until she’s older (since replacement knees only last up to 15 years). Walking is painful, and what do tourists do? They walk. A lot. She dreads it.

Demetrios asked him, “What will you do if your heart acts up while you’re in Bulgaria?” and Leonidas had no answer, but he is quite determined to go.

So all we can do is hope his heart will not act up, or if it does, please God it may do so before the trip and not during.

This time we ate the midday meal first, a yummy beef with orzo casserole, and took our siestas afterward. When we awoke, we packed up the car, but before we left town, we had a little driving tour. We saw where assorted relatives live. We stopped and spoke with some of them, or waved as we passed.

Then, at dusk, we stopped at another outdoor café, right by the sea. The tables are dispersed among ancient-looking trees and new-looking umbrellas, with artificial streams of water flowing among the tables. Gimmicky, but in a way I found pleasing. We sat literally 8 feet from the edge of the sea and watched evening fall over the bay, and the lights come on in the little villages across it. The main lights are a long string lining the Via Egnatia, the route St. Paul traveled.

Demetrios’ cell phone rang. It was Olympia, our Greek friend from Richmond (and Thessaloniki). I thought she and Nick had gone back to America last week, but it turns out they’ll be here until Tuesday. Meanwhile, Olympia says her sister Panagiota, our hostess last week, the grandmother of the bride, has some books she wants to give to Demetrios. He promised to call her back tomorrow. He says he will propose we meet Olympia and Panagiota at some café.

At length, we got in the car and came home. We were about thirty minutes away when Leonidas casually asked Demetrios, “Could you drive here in Greece, on the right-hand side of the road, do you think?”

“Oh, yes, I think so,” said Demetrios. “We drive on the right in America, too. It’s England where they drive on the left.”

And that’s when I guessed – correctly or incorrectly scarcely matters! – what was behind that question, and realized for the first time the position we were in: Leonidas was driving! He who very recently fell to the floor utterly helpless from arrhythmia, was driving. He who was in the hospital with his heart condition again just this week! Whereas my own arrhythmia comes on slowly and is only moderate, his hits him hard and without warning, and it’s too soon to say whether his condition has been stabilized yet or not. What were we all thinking?

I spent the rest of the time, all the way home, trying to calculate the chances one of us would be able to grab the steering wheel in an emergency and/or stop the car before all being killed.

We did arrive here safely, however, and half an hour later, a phone call to Leonidas and Ianna confirmed that they did, too.

We had a wonderful, charming, restful time. Demetrios especially needed it; he has been working too hard on his book, tiring himself by thinking too long and too hard.

The reward of that, though, is that he has finally understood another very big chunk of the human psyche, together with its anatomy, a piece of the puzzle he needed before he could make any further progress on his book. He says this bit both illumines the previous part of the book and opens the way forward)