Saturday In The Village Square, Rhodes Island, Greece
It is Saturday afternoon in the village square. I am having a frappe at Toula’s restaurant while I do a little work on my laptop. Toula and her family sit at another table, chatting.
The old men are at Stellos and Melania’s restaurant playing backgammon and drinking Greek coffee.
Magdelena and hairdresser Toula have gone home. They will open their shops again later.
It is a sultry oppressive afternoon, and there aren’t many tourists. Dark clouds gather menacingly over the mountain and my energy feels drained.
Suddenly there is a loud thunderclap, and the heavens open up. Torrential rain pelts down on the dry, dusty square and within seconds it is a deluge. Umbrellas and canopies can barely take the volume of water, and everyone is running around pulling tables and chairs under cover. The square is at least an inch deep in water, and I have to move seats as a carpet of water creeps into the covered part of the restaurant.
Toula moves some things and suddenly shrieks, yelling in Greek as she grabs a broom. Everyone else jumps up and rushes to her aid. Now everyone is shrieking and yelling.
I get up to see why everyone is making such a fuss.
It is a rat!
It is a rat that doesn’t like rain!
Toula chases it away with her broom, and it heads across the street towards the restaurant opposite.
The water is running down the street, and the rat is pronking like a springbok. We all laugh at its antics as it leaps clear in the air each time its little legs touch the water, springing its way across the road. When it reaches the other side, it tries to scale the restaurant wall without success. Giving up, it pronks on a bit further until it finds the restaurants steps and tries its luck inside.
Suddenly, everyone in that restaurant leaps up shrieking and yelling as someone chases the rat outside. It pronks back down the steps and across the road again making its way to Stellos and Melania’s restaurant, climbing the steps in front of the old men. The men leap out of their chairs; shrieking and yelling while they do I kind of jig, stomping from one foot to the next. I have not seen such a funny scene in a long time and am in tears with hysterical laughter.
The rat gives up searching for shelter and pronks up the hill in search of higher ground while the whole square roars with laughter.
Saturday night is a big night in the square. Selia invites me to join her and her daughter, Calista,
Calista works in a poolside snack bar in a hotel and is having a rare night off. Her Saturday night treat is Souvlaki from Toula. Everyone else is there too, Magdalena, hairdresser Toula, all with their family and friends. All the tables outside the restaurants are full, and the atmosphere is loud and filled with laughter.
Even the priest from the next village is there enjoying ouzo with friends. People go from table to table chatting with each other, and despite it being late evening, young children run around the square squealing and laughing as they play.
‘What time do you usually stay out until?’ I ask Selia.
‘It depends.’ She replies. ‘It depends on the weather and the atmosphere. Sometimes one o’clock, maybe two o’clock, sometimes even five o’clock.’
‘What about the people living over the square?’ I ask, looking up at the apartments above the shops. They all have balconies facing the square.
‘Nay! They are used to it.’ She shrugs her shoulders.
I struggle to stay awake and quietly sneak home just before midnight, leaving everyone else to socialise. I will have to work on my body clock.
I have a car now. It took a week of searching, but I finally found a Greek car hire company that gave me an excellent deal. It only took me three phone calls. Each time I called, someone promised to call back within the hour with a price, but they never did. But perseverance won out, and someone eventually gave me the deal I wanted. They even sent a driver to the village to collect me and take me to their pickup point at the airport.
I spend a lot of time working on my writing projects and study, but each day I take my little Suzuki Alto out to explore somewhere new, falling deeper and deeper in love with my paradise island each time I do.
This side of the island is not very touristy, which suits me well. It is probably because the sea on this side is quite choppy, but the beaches are lovely nonetheless, and the water is warm. It is farming country, and the lush green landscape is a patchwork of olive groves, vineyards, citrus fruit and general farming. The mountains are spectacular but not too high, and the roads around them are broad and sweeping. The roads, in general, are good to drive on and relatively quiet.
One day I venture over to the other side of the island. After a lovely forty minute drive over the mountains, I descend to the coast only to be overwhelmed by the busy traffic and tourists! Masses of tourists! Everywhere! I have found my way to Kolympia, one of the islands’ tourist meccas. People are on quads, scooters, in hire cars, pedestrians pack the shop-lined streets. The shops are brimming over with tourist stuff. Billboards advertise water sports and tours, and there is general mayhem. Still coming to terms with driving on the other side of the road, I feel panicked and quickly retreat back over the mountains to the safety of my village.
I am just getting out of the shower one morning when there is a knock at the door.
‘It’s me, Johnny.’ I hear his voice call from outside.
‘Wait a moment.’ I call as I hurriedly dress.
‘Come on! Let’s go walking.’ He says when I open the door to him.
I’d been feeling the need to stretch my legs and explore the countryside, so I jump at the offer.
Johnny leads me along a pathway that passes the church and takes us into the woods and up some steps to a concreted area with seating and closed wooden kiosks.
‘This is where we celebrate Christmas,’ he tells me ‘See up here, in the cave, it’s the baby Jesus.’
We enter the dark cave, and I can vaguely make out an angel figure at the back as my eyes become accustomed to the darkness. I take a photo using the flashlight and only then do I see baby Jesus in his manger in the foreground.
Carrying on along a mountain path that has a gentle incline pine trees surround us and the air is warm and scented. We stop from time to time to look at the views or take a little rest. It is a long time since I last hiked and I am enjoying it despite being slightly embarrassed that my guide, who is striding out and twenty years my senior is concerned not to push me too much.
Along the way, Johnny picks bunches of mountain herbs for me to take home and explains that it is used to make tea. The plant grows everywhere, and the air is thick with its aroma. He picks a citrus fruit for us to eat. It is not a lime nor a lemon, but something in between and it is refreshing. We gather wildflowers for my studio and on the way back, stop at a tiny chapel in the mountainside to light a candle.
Two and a half hours later we arrive back at the village. By now I am exhausted and hot and am happy to slump into a chair at Stellos and Melania’s.
To protect the privacy of the people I write about I have changed some details including their names. However, their warm generosity and my stories are real.
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