Writings of Andrew Schiestel

Elysium

by , on
Aug 5, 2019
A picture of the Village of Vathy on the Island of Ithaca, Greece.

“Want me to take the picture?”

The family of three—husband, wife and daughter—were going to take each other’s photos in pairs; the plan was: first the mother and daughter and following, the father and daughter.

Tom knew the plan because he heard the three conversing while passing the trio; the daughter initiated the idea as they walked eastward along the southern part of Vathi’s bay.

The husband, in his late forties looked at Tom for an extended moment before responding.

“Yes, thank you.” He smiled graciously.

Tom reached out and the man handed him his mobile phone.

The three were pleasant in demeanour and clearly enjoying the day. The mother was similar in age as her spouse, wearing a light tank-top shirt, worn khaki shorts, black sandals and a modest silver-toned watch; the daughter—around 24 years of age—a younger spitting image of the two, wore a long flowing dress with flowers imprinted on it and a bracelet on her wrist; and the man wore a worn grey t-shirt, dark grey shorts, black sandals and nothing around his wrists.

Tom made sure to take several photos, both portrait and landscape in posture. He also started taking the photos early, before the three put on their smiley-faces, because sometimes, you get the best photo of people that way.

“Thank you,” the husband said, receiving the phone back.

“Where are you from?” the wife asked.

“Canada.”

“Ahh, Canada.”

“You all?”

“United Kingdom.”

“Ahh, England.”

“Yes.”

“I was in London a year ago, March, in Soho” Tom said. “But never left London. Except for the airport. How do you like this island?”

The three nodded.

“An incredible island,” The man looked over at his wife. “The two of us visited this island 25 years ago.”

“Oh wow, that’s a long time ago.” Tom chuckled.

“Yes, it was 1994,” The man recited the year on demand like it wasn’t the first time he had done so on the trip.

“Is it much different?”

“Cephalonia is much different. Ithaca not so much.”

“You mean places like Sami have developed a lot more?”

“Exactly,” The fellow said. “Although Ithaca clearly is getting some interesting tourists these days, like that yacht over there.” He turned and pointed to the prodigal yacht, 150-feet in length, parked on the western side of the bay and chuckled, a hint of sarcasm in his tone.

Tom noticed the yacht, too, last night when he arrived on the island. It was the largest yacht he had ever seen. It was parked south of a row of a dozen sailboats predominantly from the U.K., one from France.

“You should come for dinner sometime!” The man proclaimed with a chuckle.

“You bet,” Tom played along. “Two years ago, I visited Ithaca.”

“Really?” The wife and husband both said almost simultaneously.

The daughter stood still listening intently, keeping very quiet.

“See the mountain over there?” Tom pointed north across the centre of the bay up at Mount Nirito in the distance. “When I arrived in Ithaca, I went into the souvlaki shop at the corner,” He motioned his hand to the west along the southern part of the bay to its southwest corner. All three nodded their heads in understanding. “I asked a Greek woman standing in line, ‘Can the mountain be hiked and how long?’ She said, ‘Yes, two and a half hours up.’ So I thought to myself, two and a half hours up, two and a half hours back, throw a baguette in the knapsack, a bottle of water, maybe an orange, leave at 8 be back by 1pm!”

The three laughed, following along.

“I spent five days in Vathy and was going to do the hike on the sixth and last day. It was the coldest winter Greece had had in 16 years. The day I woke up to do the hike, it was raining outside and gosh was it cold!”

“Oh no!” The husband exclaimed all three sinking deeper into the story.

“Yes, and when I started to make my way up the mountain there was plenty of snow! My left foot was starting to freeze as I walked. It was getting dangerous.”

The three continued listening, becoming more intent.

“Near the top of the mountain I entered a café in the Village of Anogi. The owner of the café knew I wasn’t in good shape, grabbed my arm when I entered, pulled and sat me down on a wooden chair in front of a portable coal fireplace to warm up and laid out nuts and crackers to eat. And when I tried to offer her money for them upon leaving, she refused to accept it.”

The three continued to listen, their attention seized.

“As I was getting ready to leave she went behind a counter and lifted up a woman’s winter jacket, and said, ‘Put this on,’ I said, ‘No, I’m not taking your jacket.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going back to Vathi, right? My brother works in the coffee shop in the square. Give it to him in the morning.”

“What did you do next?” The husband asked emphatically.

“I put the woman’s winter jacket on, of course! And proceeded to walked four and a half hours back down the mountain! It was 10pm by the time I returned that night to Vathi. And when I got back into the village, I went back to that same souvlaki shop and had a big plate of souvlaki! And when standing up thirty minutes later, I’ve never felt so much pain in my thighs before!”

“Oh wow!” The daughter and mother spurted out almost simultaneously, all three laughing, a mixture of shock and awe.

“The two-and-a-half hour hike one way and back turned out to be five and a half one way, four and a half the other way. It ended up being 34 kilometres in total!”

“Wow!” The husband spurted.

“And if I had known it was going to be 34 kilometres, you bet I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. I wasn’t in shape for it!” All three continued laughing at the thought of it all.

“So where do you live in England?” Tom asked.

“A place called Thornbury, a beautiful country. It’s in the southwest, about 40 minutes from Bristol and the ocean.

“Sounds beautiful.”

“Aye mate, it really is,” The husband said.

“Well, have a wonderful rest of your trip all,” Tom said. “What a pleasure this has been.” Tom placed his right hand, open, in front of his heart.

The three smiled warmly and said their good byes to Tom.

“See you in another 20 years,” the husband quipped jovially as Tom walked away.

Tom chuckled.

The three walked back to their 150-foot yacht named Elysium.

 

The hero image is of the Village of Vathy on the Island of Ithaca, Greece, taken from the northwestern shore. Many sailboats anchored; the centre islet is that of Lazereto, which hosted the island’s jail until the 1950s and today a chapel.

The Elephant And The Turtle

by , on
Jul 17, 2019
The sun setting on the Islands of Cephalonia and Ithaca, Greece.

And there was the Port of Aetos.

The ferry docked by way of a cleat hitch around a horn cleat, helped by a worker of the port.

Tom disembarked the ferry and set his feet on the Island of Ithaca; he had returned.

Port Aetos was deserted if it weren’t for the travellers, the vehicles waiting for the travellers, the ferry itself, a pop-stand operated by an old woman and a few construction workers laying cement in a twenty by thirty rectangular box that lay on the dock pressed up against the sea.

Tom accessed a map software on his phone to check the distance he was to walk. He was staying in Vathy tonight and chose not to risk imposition by asking his host for a ride from the port.

Seven kilometers, the software read.

Tom snapped shut the upper belt of his travel knapsack around his neck, inverted the smaller knapsack around his chest—four straps covered his shoulders in total—and began the trek up the hill towards Vathy, leaving the port.

Halfway up the tall and winding road, he turned back to the port and took a few photos of the ferry departing. The vessel was on its voyage back to Patras to complete another summer’s day of work when a Datsun sedan, red, pulled up, its windows down, being driven by a middle-aged woman, tanned, brown slightly curly long hair leaning partly out of the driver door’s window.

“Want a ride?”

“I’m going to Vathy,” Tom said. “That alright?”

“I’m going to the north. ‘Can drop you off halfway.” Her English was clear.

Tom unbuckled the two straps of his travel sack, opened one of the Datsun’s back doors, tossed both knapsacks onto the backseat and hopped into the vehicle.

“Where you from?” Tom asked.

“Australia.”

“Why are you here?”

“My family is from the northern island.”

“There’s another island in the north?”

“No, same island. But the northern part.”

“Ahh. Greek background?”

“Aye. In the fifties there was an earthquake on the island; a devastating one. Many people lost their homes. The countries of South Africa and Australia were welcoming to those effected. Thousands migrated and many of the families return here in the summer months. Ithaca will always be home.”

The car was up over the hill, winding, bend after bend.

The two made small talk and it wasn’t long until the vehicle entered a cove, a mountain in the distance, an isle in the centre-right and a fork in the road. “Here is your stop. You go right, I go left.” “Ahh, thank you for your generosity.” Tom hopped out of the car, opened the backdoor and grabbed his two knapsacks from the seat. As the door slowly began to shut, the Australian-Greek staying seated, turned to Tom and quickly stretched her right arm out, palm-up holding two small dark-red objects. “You dropped these,” she said. “Oh, the elephant and the turtle!” Tom exclaimed sighing relief. “A man with a kind soul from Senegal came up to me in Athens. His cousin makes them; the material is from the ocean. He said that they bring very good luck to those who hold them.” She gave them back to Tom with indifference, smiled, Tom shut the door and she drove away.

Good luck was on her way and she didn’t even know it.

The red Datsun drove west and then north around the cove, then up the west side of Mount Nirito and disappeared into the north.

Tom walked to Vathy.

 

The hero image is of the sun setting on the Ionian Sea on July 16, 2019. To the left, the Island of Cephalonia; to the right and bottom-centre, the Island of Ithaca.

Three Hockey Players

by , on
Jul 6, 2019

In Ontario, especially in rural communities, many boys dream of playing in the National Hockey League (NHL). To many a surprise, Lacrosse is Canada’s national sport, but hockey is its most populated. There’s a national pride that consumes the country at all levels of competitive hockey. The Summit Series of 1972 was Russia versus Canada, two foes squaring off that would be akin, in a sports-sense, to the Cold War between Russia and the United States in a similar time period. The World Junior Hockey Championships which happen annually, when being played out overseas, will see countless Canadians up in the wee hours of the morning watching Team Canada, a group of rising teenage stars, play their hearts out for Canadian pride on television. And there is pressure too with anything less than a Championship victory considered an absolute failure not only for Canadians watching, but the players themselves. The country brings the same level of expectations to the Olympics every four years where Canada is expected to bring home gold. The Canadian players themselves, usually all of which are in the NHL, take time off from the season to represent the Great North, not for money, but for dignity, both personally and more importantly nationally.

Starting hockey when young, playing lots, and being in the great Canadian hockey system helps many youth eventually make it to the NHL, but these factors are usually not enough for many.

In Wingham, Ontario there once lived a star hockey player in high school. He was tall for his age, had an overly developed muscular system due to bailing thousands of bundles of hay on his family’s farm growing up. He would score 4-6 goals per game, and was fast too, and strong too, and tough too.

Word of this star got to an NHL team and a scout was assigned to visit the Wingham Hockey Arena to watch this boy play. When word got back to the star, he decided he’d go to the local foundry that evening to work and would miss the game. He was the best player Wingham ever had. A scout never did see him play.

In Owen Sound, a 17 year old played in Junior B hockey. He was a fast player, faster than anyone he knew in the league. He would combine his speed with intuition of where the puck was going to be before it got there. This made him a great defenseman but in reality, he could have been an offensive or defensive player. He had a drinking problem too. Him and a few friends on the team would get drunk very often, everyday actually. And when he tried out for Junior A hockey in Owen Sound for the Owen Sound Attack, he was cut because he kept throwing up on the ice. He couldn’t keep his liquor down. And neither could two of his buddies. He became an insurance broker to farmers, made decent money, had five kids and remained a drunk.

In St. Mary’s there was an offense player who played in Junior A. He had raw torque like few others in the league, or that had been seen in years. He was tall and large like a reasonable human resemblance to a freight train. This strength made him formidable that few would dare mess with on the ice. Why bother? Players thought. He would match this strength with a serene articulation when shooting the puck, being able to pinpoint within an inch and a half where towards the net the puck would go. His big day came – the Annual NHL Draft. That day, he went in the 7th round and would be drafted onto the same NHL team with another player who would go on to become an NHL All-Star, hall of famer and club owner. This young man from St. Mary’s never did play in the NHL though. The night after the After Party, he would collide his car, inebriated from all the celebratory beers after the lifetime accomplishment, into the trunk of a maple leaf tree and fracture his vertebrae.

It’s true. Sometimes starting a sport early, working hard and being in a great system isn’t enough.