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  • Writer's pictureNora Studholme

Today, in Greece

Now, to get to where we are today. A ferry to a flight to Athens, a night wandering and looking at ancient ruins, in the morning the family catches a flight to America and we find our ferry to Naxos. It’s a long ferry — 3.5 hours on the choppy Aegean — and the fastest I’ve ever been on. Inside, it looks like a cross between a movie theater and a Vegas casino. Leather recliner chairs, bars with surprisingly good food, double decker with a wide circular opening and a grand staircase.

When we get to Naxos Town, our journey isn’t over. We ask a taxi driver to take us to our little town where we’ve found an Airbnb (filters: seaside, kitchen, under $50 per night… there weren’t too many to choose from in high-season Greece). The first one we ask, an old man with a crumpled hat squashed close to his ears, leans forward as if he hasn’t heard. “Apollon?” He asks, and we nod. He shakes his head without another word and walks away.

The next man we ask is more promising. He frowns at first, then thrusts his finger into the air as if he’s just had a brilliant idea. “One Hundred Dollars!” He exclaims. We exchange a glance, say we’ll think about it.

By the time our third driver rejects us (“Very far, very far”) we’re starting to wonder where we are trying to go. Is this some mythical mount of lore where all Greeks fear to venture? Are we off the edge of the map, where there be monsters? At last, a driver tells us that his friend will take us for $70, so we accept and get in his car. The road is, indeed, very far, very far. It winds through the infinite fold of the Naxos mountains which cross and rise and repeat like the folds of a crumpled ball of paper. Like most of the Cyclades, the hills are rough and scrubbed, ragged with hardy little trees and spikes golden grass, spotted with stone. It is an incongruous, unforgiving landscape in contrast to the pearly sea far below. We see no other towns, indeed no other houses, on the hour long drive. At last, in the cup of a valley, we see a glimmer of white houses, and start to wind down the mountain toward them. There aren’t many, we can see as we approach, but it’s certainly a town, perhaps a hundred little homes, maybe fewer. The cliffs are high and ragged, and the ocean here on the northern tip of the island is raging.

And now, a confession. We settle into our little apartment. It’s perfectly serviceable, everything we need, and fast wifi, and a full fridge, even air conditioner. But the day is already darkening behind the rising mountains and the wind is roaring and the waves are crashing and angry and the mountains themselves are all leaning southward, away from the ocean and the mighty fury of the wind. And we’re… disappointed. This isn’t the idyllic blue water of Greece that we left a few days ago. We feel our dreams of daily floating and snorkeling slipping away.

Seeing the little town helps, when we walk down there, a little string of four or five tavernas and cafes along the water, a relatively sheltered little cove with a strip of white sand beach, some cheerful drinkers clinking glasses of white wine and warm lights glowing.

“I’ll get used to it,” I said when Paul asks how I feel. I’m afraid to say the truth. “I’m sure I’ll get used to it very soon.”

I was wrong. I didn’t get used to it. Instead, I fell helplessly in love with it.

It took three days and a few simple occurrences for me to fall in love.

The first: On our first morning we wake and look out at the frothing ocean. The wind is a little calmer in the morning, although it’s still steady. Our Airbnb host, a strong looking middle aged Greek woman, calls up our stairs to me. She’s brought us a bag of tiny fish, like sardines, that her husband caught yesterday. “Good fried,” she says, and hands them to me, walking away without another word.

That morning, fish stowed in our refrigerator, we go for a swim in the cove. The water is cool and the swell pushes up sand through the clear water so that there are drifting moats of gold. It’s different than the stones and fish that we’re used to but it has its own magic.

The next day, our host shows up again, this time with a tray of fried zucchini, some sautéed greens, a bowl of olives, and some dip that she’s made. Again, there is little ceremony, some smiles, and she’s gone. Later that afternoon, Paul goes to paint “en plein air” on the cliff, and a woman passes him and admires the painting. When she passes again, on her way back from the beach, she hands him a bag of figs that she’s picked.

And that’s when everything clicks into place. When the waves and the wind suddenly start to feel welcoming, a breeze that lifts away the heat, a clear rising majesty of ocean that you can watch for hours, the contrast of pale blue and white froth against the ragged black of the rocks. The warmth of the little tavernas, the way every person you pass looks you right in the face and says “Yassas” or “Kalimera” (“Hello,” “Good morning”), no matter how far off they might be. The reminder that when you pause, when you’re patient, good things just bubble up around you. The reminder that things don’t have to be perfect to be… well, perfect.

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