The custard-cream church Kardymili
This year is the eighth time I have been in Kardymili since I published my first post in November 2013, so I had to stop at the village church to pay homage and be blessed by the sung Orthodox liturgy. I’d parked the rusty old bike outside, the same bike I always hire from Ionnis, the village witch-doctor/herbalist who dabbles in remedies, olive oil soap, baskets made by the gypsies who camp by the river-bed and a powerful blend of herbs that are guaranteed to banish insomnia.
Renting a bike from Ionnis always goes like this:
Me- Hello Yanni how’s life? You look well.
Yanni- Ah, its you again. I am very busy (boiling up stuff to make soap/just going to my farm/ looking after my donkey/going for coffee to Anna’s). Oh, I have just sold the last of my mountain tea/ sleeping herbs/honey to an Austrian who bought up the whole lot. I’ll see if I have time (long pause)…. to put together something for you tomorrow.
Me- Ok I’ll take the bike for now.
The bike proves to have terrible gears/brakes/tyres. I take it back next day.
Yanni- leave it with me. It just needs a little adjustment. Come at 6 to pick it up.
At six no one is there and the old shed/ workshop studded outside with pots of unruly, bright green giant basil is locked. The same broken chair sits forlorn but the bike is on its stand, unlocked and ready to go.
In the afternoon, everyone is dozing on the beach. It’s almost too hot to swim. A tremendous clatter breaks the peace, shaking the sky, coming closer and closer. I hear it from my balcony and the worst case scenario flashes into my head: someone has drowned while the rest of the holidaymakers have been asleep. But in fact the helicopter perched on the stony beach (covered in the most beautiful, individual pebbles) has brought a V.I.P all the way from Athens. Gianna Aggelopaulou, a millionairess and Ambassador at large for the Hellenic state. No one is quite sure what she is doing in tiny Kardymili, but she is doing things V.I.P’s are supposed to do like meeting the Mayor or the priest or maybe visiting Paddy Leigh-Fermor’s house, now an exclusive hotel.
I reluctantly put the marker in my Kindle (am re-reading Ann Tyler’s Breathing Lessons, another acerbically brilliant novel, delving into the lives of a Baltimore family and especially the impulsive and lovable central character, Maggie) to hop on the bike and buy some eggs from Joanna.
Originally from Rumania, Joanna married a local Greek farmer and stocks her own honey, olive oil, confitures, salt and herbs besides a good selection of organic products. I buy my bread from her, plus eggs, tomatoes and yogurt. She bravely practises her English on me and sends me on my way with a present of sea salt dried and prepared by her.
My next stop is Lola’s ice-cream parlour, but Lola is having a Spanish lesson with a woman from Hay-on-Wye of all places.
She has the prettiest cafe for miles, with vintage lace tablecloths and tea cups and she bakes a delicious variety of English type cakes.
Every morning I take a metrio with another Greek friend, Lela, before swimming half a mile in the clear blue waters of the bay. Since acquiring a pair of all purpose amphibian shoes from Sotiria (it means salvation) at the proper cycle shop (which stocks all manner of sporting gear) my life has been transformed. I walk boldly down the pebble beach, into the sea and swim away. On my return climbing out of the water is no longer a marathon task- the shoes cushion every awkward stone beneath.
I read under the beach umbrella and then have a very late lunch/supper at Fani’s restaurant, which is attached to the hotel. Pickled whitebait, beetroot salad, tomatoes and olives. In the evening, wandering back to the village I meet a Welshman in his camper van. He’s been meandering around Europe for months, scuba diving and exploring on his powerful mountain motor bike. He tells me about shepherds in some remote gorge in the Taygetos and how they shared their bread and cheese with him. Gavin’s sister is a well-known press photographer, Claire Thomas, so I look up her website to marvel at her portfolio of pictures. Gavin and I each buy a 5 litre tin of the best olive oil from Stavros and I will collect mine from him when he gets back to Wales.
I feel I don’t deserve to luxuriate in so much beauty- the singing stars at night, the lavender clouds at sunset, the vistas of unbroken water like hammered gold and silver. At night the sea swishes a lullaby and morning is a fresh new promise.