I am sitting, feet couched in sun-warmed sand, on the shore of an island in Greece. The blue waters of the Mediterranean are lapping only a meter away from where I’m resting on a deck chair, their blue perfection living up to the score of photos I’d seen before coming here.
27th of August
(Photo credit Martina Falkner)
The past few days have been bliss. It feels slightly mad that I’m living the stereotypical holiday pined after by people trapped in cubicles, the go-to idea of paradise conjured to appease the tedium of work. And I’m living it. In a way if feels like this is meant for someone else, that days of luxuriating on a Greek Island, bothered with no greater schedule than when to swim, eat, and sleep are reserved for the insanely lucky or insanely rich, and that at any point someone will walk across the sand and say, “You’re in my seat,” and then that will be that. But all the other beach goers seem to accept my presence, no one yet double-taking when spotting me and shouting “Fraud!”, so I’m going to relax and ride this for as long as I can.
The trip to the island involved four means of transport, beginning with Alex’s dad driving us to the airport where we met our other companions in idleness, Kerstin, Alex’s cousin, and two of Alex’s friends from university, Anna and Martina. It was sad to say goodbye to Vienna, and my temporary foster home and family, Monika and Rupert. Their generosity and welcome turned a holiday into something more, and deepened the enjoyment of my stay tenfold. Beside their lovely company and beautiful home, I will also miss their cooking. My god, they know how to cook.
From Vienna, we flew to Athens then took a bus (the third form of transport for those still counting) to the docks, where we boarded a huge ferry for the five-hour trip out to the island of Paros. The water opened up to swallow us as we drifted away from the newly discovered city of Athens (new for me, at any rate. I hear it’s actually quite old), and on to paradise. The sun set while we sailed and we were greeted by the lights of Paros sparkling along the shoreline, dimly illuminating the square white buildings Greece is renowned for. The departure from the boat was impressive, hundred of people, suitcase wheeling behind them, disgorging from the bowels of the ferry, a mass of humanity spreading out into the island. It felt like we were all new migrants, deposited on an island, to start a new life. If this is my new life, then I have nothing to complain about.
(Photo credit Martina Falkner)
Since then we have split our time between sunning ourselves on the beach, swimming in the crystal waters, eating fresh seafood, bread and oil, and drinking beer and cocktails, napping in the sun, and, of course, reading. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed, and so free of that nag of productivity, the voice in the back of my head that usually disturbs my rest by insisting I need to be doing something more constructive. I’ve bought that voice a beer and he’s currently sleeping in the Greek sun. We’ve made our peace.
28th of August
I am back on a beach in Paros, a different beach from yesterday, but that doesn’t really matter. Every beach we visit looks like it’s been lifted straight out of a postcard. The weather is, of course, perfect, as it always is in postcards, a method designed to make those receiving them jealous, and a way for those sending them to brag. It’s the original check-in before Facebook was invented.
Each night after a strenuous day of concentrated napping, studious reading, and dedicated eating, we head back to our apartments to wash away the sweat of our hard work before venturing into town. We’ve explored a few parts of this island’s township, and if the postcard metaphor was appropriate for the beach scenes, then it only increases in the web of quaint cobblestoned alleyways found riddled throughout the hubs of Paros. Perfectly white cubed buildings squat almost a top one another, every door and windowsill painted a vivid blue in a patriotic display. Boutique stores selling jewellery and clothes share the street with idyllic restaurants, vines growing across lattice overhead and the tables lit by candlelight.
So far the food in Greece has not disappointed. After the food tour of Vienna I received from Alex and her parents, I was convinced I’d find an anticlimactic feed no matter how good the fare provided by the island, but this has not been the case. The seafood is fresh, unsurprising given we’re on a spit of land surrounded by sea and, therefore, sea creatures, and the bread and oil rich and delicious. I’m not looking forward to heading back to London and having to feed myself again. It’s not that I can’t cook a decent meal, but I think my time in Vienna and now Greece has ruined me for regular food.
I spoke to my brother today – it was great to hear his voice. One line in and I was home again, a slice of the comfort and familiarity amongst all this incredible newness. We exchanged the usual report of happenings, but it was the talking shit around this news-swapping that eased the homesickness. There is no medicine better than laughing with your brother over something so fucking stupid you can’t help but appreciate the genius of it.
So far my homesickness has been rather restrained. I think this is due to the fact that I spent the first part of the trip with my cousin, Dom, who really is a brother in every sense except for the fact that we shared differently uteruses, and so home didn’t feel far away. I’ve also done nothing except holiday, so I still hasn’t really hit me that this is my new life and not just an extended vacation. I think some part of my brain is still convinced in a matter of weeks I’ll have to return to my previous life. I think once employment replaces holidaying that part of my brain will think, “Oh shit, this is hard again. Okay, I believe you when you say this is our reality now.” Luckily, that horrid realisation is still ten days away, so I’m happy to join my brain in ignorance and just relax in this piece of paradise. Ignorance is bliss, after all.
30th of August
I am sitting on an outcropping of stone in an alley in Paros while the girls shop. I have a suspicion the step of stone was built for men such as me waiting on women while they survey the market goods. The Greek culture is ancient and wise like that.
Right now my belly is stretched full with good food, the third restaurant meal I’ve eaten today. I know, if I was you, I’d hate me too.
(My holiday companions)
Despite the fact that I’m on holiday, and have nothing but open time and endless possibilities, my days have still fallen into a routine. Please don’t mistake me, this is no criticism – my current routine far outstrips the one I previously had, which involved getting up at six each morning and working for eight and a half hours. But it seems routine is an unavoidable human condition – we develop practises that prove beneficial and economical, then add to these practises until our day is a scheduled thing. So even while holidaying, we’ve managed to hone our traits into a seamless machine of relaxation. Right now, my day goes something like this:
– Wake to the alarm at eight o’clock. And I know what you’re thinking, why the hell are you waking at eight on a holiday? To get the best sun beds on the beach, obviously. Beneficial and economical, remember? And fear not, any lost sleep is recovered on said sun bed later in the day.
– Flop myself out of bed at eight twenty after attempting to ignore the alarm for twenty minutes, brush my teeth and don my Greek Island ceremonial robes i.e.my bathing suit.
– Drive to a close by bakery and purchase one giant sugared donut. The challenge of which is resisting eating the donut until arriving at our destination.
– Drive to the beach and glory in our choice of sun beds, patting ourselves on the back for our wise early start, then immediately devouring the sugared donut in under a minute.
– Spend the next minute picking sugar out of my beard.
– Then comes the part of the day I detest the most: the ritualistic application of the sunscreen. This is probably the hardest part of my day, which is another way of saying my day’s not that hard, but I still find it in me to resent it. I do it anyway because one stubborn fit of resistance as a child and five days a whimpering afterwards every time a wisp of clothing touched my lobster-red sunburn taught me resistance is futile.
– Swim in the Mediterranean and reflect on how lucky I am.
– Nap, and feel that balance has been restored post the eight o’clock alarm.
– Read for hours until someone idly suggests lunch.
– Eat a lunch of delicious traditional Greek cuisine. Or pizza. Whatever looks best at the time.
– Repeat morning activities of swimming, napping and reading. By now, I have perfected these duties.
– Drive back to the apartment at around six for a shower and some phone time. WiFi is only available at the accommodation and not the beach. I know, stone ages, right?
– Make our way into town and meander through beautiful alleyways before selecting the next stunning restaurant to eat at.
– Sitting down with a sigh of relief after our strenuous meandering.
– Eat consistently amazing food – conversation usually halts at this point as we’re all too busy moaning with pleasure at every mouthful to bother with words.
– More meandering to work off dinner and the chance to shop.
– Driving home and collapsing into bed, confident in the knowledge that my new routine has ensured I didn’t waste a minute of the day.
(Photo credit Martina Falkner)
As perfect as this routine is, and despite my best efforts to ignore the fact, I know that this lifestyle has an end date, and before long I’ll be developing a new routine in London. I’m certain of one thing when it comes to building this new life: I don’t want to replicate my old life. I mean, it seems like a waste of time and money to travel all this way and just build Same Life v2.0, don’t you think?
The reason I’m so determined to avoid this is because I think it’s an easy trap to fall into. That unavoidable human condition would kick in, and given the success of my previous life, it’d make sense to duplicate the elements that worked. Beneficial and economical. But this move is a chance to create a new routine, one built around new objectives. To reflect on what was previously out of balance and right it. To make time for new things.
What those things are exactly has yet to be decided. But I’m giving it some serious thought and will report back in the next post.