How easy it is to adjust a clock, how difficult to adjust an attitude. When the clock is the one on your phone and adjusts itself automatically, the difference becomes even starker. Connecting to the wifi at Athens Airport to check my email and check in to Foursquare, all that stuff, I notice that my phone has efficiently set itself to Greek time, 8 hours back. Μπράβο! Bravo! One of has fully arrived at least. As for me, well, the memory of my going away drinks in Gilhooley’s on Elizabeth St. a day or so ago doesn’t feel long ago enough that I can just slip into Hellenic mode like that. I am still on Brisbane time, Australian Eastern Standard Time, sleep-deprived, in a country where they pronounce wifi “weefy”. This might take a while.
At Oia Castle. This is where everyone goes to watch the sunset. Later on, of course.
Waiting for me at arrivals is my wife Athina, who I haven’t seen in three weeks. Heyyy! She fills me in on the comings and goings of the rest of the gang, that is, her parents and our own kids. They’re all in Zakynthos - the Ionian island that is our Greek base - and hearing about what they’ve been up to in the last day or two helps me to anchor myself temporally in Greece, my home for the next three weeks. I know that if it was just me wandering around Eleftherios Venizelos (Athens) International Airport on my own, killing time before a connecting flight, it would take me a lot longer to find my ‘time-legs’, if I can say such a thing.
After our catch-up coffee in the pleasant surrounds of the Sofitel just outside the airport it’s time to get going. We have to catch a flight to Santorini (whose official name is Thira, by the way), and Tina’s all business. She’s on top of things, and this is exactly what I need, and she can speak Greek, which is obviously no small matter in these situations. Like I say, I probably couldn’t catch a bus that was parked in front of me at the moment, with the fuzzy head on me right now.
In the departure lounge I finally get a chance to absorb the Greekness, to sit still and just observe people. But we’re talking about Santorini here, so clearly a lot of people waiting to fly are tourists like us, and I hear non-Greek accents too. Reassuringly though, there’s a local guy being ridiculously loud on his mobile, making people stare. It’s times like this that I’m glad my Greek isn’t good, depressed as I would undoubtedly be by the crushing mundanity of whatever it was that he just had to broadcast to everyone in the departure area. Still, it’s annoying - you wouldn’t get this at home. But he can shout from the rooftops if he wants because… πάμε στη Θήρα - we’re going to Thira!
The very last thing I want to do is climb in another plane, but I shouldn’t say that because whereas some people might have problems in their lives, all I have to do is endure a short flight through brochure-blue skies south into the Aegean, first over Πάρος (Paros), then Ίος (Ios), on this perfect June morning, the first of a long-anticipated holiday. And when we touch down, I can at last consider this leg of the trip done, Brisbane to Santorini, via Bangkok and Athens. It is time to do nothing in earnest.
But the bus to pick us up is late. I mean quite late. All of thirty minutes. Despite Tina’s patient attempts to pacify me by reminding me that this is June, when the world suddenly remembers Santorini and decides it would would quite like to fly there, I still find myself outraged at this poor service. Our time here is limited, and I didn’t come this far to stand like a statue of Pericles outside a poky provincial airport. There must be a taxi we can get. This is an airport we’re standing outside, right. I haven’t adjusted to island time yet. My mental time zone at that point was somewhere between Brisbane and Athens, most likely somewhere high over the Indian Ocean, on an east-northeasterly trajectory, racing to catch up with my physical reality.
On the bus, finally, the driver is texting. Probably to his friends about how much he loathes June, when the island fills up rapidly and he has to make all these connections to the airport and the hotels. I was a little disappointed at the scrappy landscape, but once we’d passed Φηρά (Fira), the capital, the landscape opened up. We were on the the western side of the island now, circling the bowl towards the top end of the rim, and sure enough the view was much better. I’m still a bit scandalized at this guy texting away even as we drive around bends. I can’t stop being distracted at how he really should be paying more attention to the road.
When we finally alight at Οία (pronounced EE-ya), I skillfully project my disapproval by not thanking him as I get off, which of course to him is probably tantamount to me being another unfriendly, self-involved tourist in a hurry, but that’s how I feel and I can’t fake gratitude towards him. Normally I’d be full of bonhomie and thanks in a situation like this, practicing my Greek: “Ευχαριστώ πολή!”, but I’m annoyed. It made me wonder how much of other people’s behaviour towards us that we perceive as being lacking in graciousness or consideration may actually be passive hostility, as mine was in this case.
I had come a long way too quick, unlike someone who regulates the pace of their journey by spending time in places along the way. I needed time to unwind, which is fine, since that’s the general reason for someone like me to come straight from an office job to a, well, basically, a spectacular volcanic caldera in the Meditterranean. We checked in to the Esperas Hotel, which wasn’t a hotel in the normal sense of the word, but rather a series of apartments built into the side of the cliff.
Evening was a meal on the square, after a streal around the narrow streets with their hat shops, photographic studios, and an unexpectedly singular bookshop called Atlantis. The next morning, before another soul had stirred out of the cave-like studios of the Esperas, I sat out on the chaise longue by the pool taking in the view across the lagoon of Θηρασία (Therasia), barely populated. Who would want to live on such an island? But then I thought that maybe they get the better deal in one way, since the view back across the water of Oia must be one of the great views of the Aegean. I might just be finally arriving in this timezone.
The next day, our first full one there, bouncing along on the back of a donkey up a dung-strewn path to the high ground of Oia after a seafood lunch down at the harbour, a thought struck. Silly as it sounds, I wished I had the coach driver’s mobile number, so I could belatedly send him the thanks I withheld yesterday. Just as long as he didn’t read the text while he was driving: he’d know not to do that, right?
On we continued, up the hill to the Esperas for a μεσημεριανός ύπνος, a lie down, all to the sound of the donkey bells echoing off the stone walls, and the old guy gently encouraging them on.