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.

The Gods of Ithaca

by , on
Jul 16, 2019
A photo of the Isle of Σκαρτσουμπονήσι in Ithaca, Greece.

It rained today in Lefki, said Tom to the Ithacan-born, South African in a British school raised, Fort Lauderdale resident, who spent the last thirty summers in Vathi. The grey-bearded Ithacan perked one side of his lip wryly and wittingly responded, We have a different God in the south.

 

The hero image is of the Isle of Σκαρτσουμπονήσι. Tale has it that Poseidon when learning that Odysseus first returned to this cove in eastern Ithaca cast a menacing spell that transformed his ship into this stone-bed isle.

Café In An Alley

by , on
Jul 16, 2019

He sat in the stone-laid alleyway directly west of Vathi’s square on the café-patio, the occasional local stopping or walking by. He tasted the second piece of cake, petite in size, that accompanied his last coffee that was now complete. He preferred biscuits but it was cake that was served. Tom stood up and walked fifteen meters west to the counter at the entrance of the café that was lit only by natural light. The server turned to him as did two customers—one seated, the other standing—inside, both becoming silent. The server smiled at Tom. “Another.” The server’s smile turned mischievous. “Allo! Another!” The server maintained his mischievous smile. “Eísai kalá? Are you okay?” Tom volleyed his own smile, in-kind, “Aye!” He turned and walked slowly back to the table that had full plates of cake if it weren’t for the two bites and would soon finish his third cup of Greek coffee.

Gýrna xaná sti douleiá

by , on
Jul 13, 2019

The front of the café sat the heavier set man, sunken shoulders, unshaven face, almost a near-completed balding scalp, and opaquely tinted sunglass that were worn four centimeters from the tip of his nose. The hostess was friendly and would talk to Tom. She was a Greek who went to a university in Albania. Gýrna xaná sti douleiá! The owner would yell at her when she talked too much with Tom. The owner tolerated a little bit of talk, not too much, but a little bit that first night because Tom ordered a crêpe. The man lacked the breadth of crêpe ingredients of a grandiose crêpe café, didn’t know what Oreos were, but loved to make crêpes for the tourists. His face lit up when two more orders came in following Tom’s. Grinning cheek-to-cheek in front of the two blackly painted crêpe makers, he exclaimed to Tom, Two more! The next day the girl smiled at Tom as he walked by, Tom paused, and they conversed again. It was University of New York that had a campus in Albania. And she found the United States, Very nice. And the same with London, U.K. Gýrna xaná sti douleiá! The store owner yelled again, having smiled at Tom only moments before when he walked outside. Tom wasn’t in the mood for another crêpe. Good bye, she said to Tom forcing a smile, Good bye.

Over the Hillside

by , on
Jul 13, 2019
A picture of sailboats in Vathi's bay, sunsetting in the background.

From Holland, I am, she said to the traveller. Why this island? he countered. Because of love. Ahh, yes, it’s a special island, he conversed. Yes, and a man, she said. Ahh, you fell in love. Aye, she responded. You’re from Holland, living in Ithaca and met a Greek man? Aye, I did, love and warmth written all across her face. Me and a girlfriend travelled here, four years ago. She was snorkeling, I was bored on the beach, the Dutch-woman raised her right hand and pointed over the hillside, east of Vathi. I was trying to read a book, and that’s when he walked up to me. I’ve traveled the world, then end up falling in love here. It was sort of funny and difficult telling my family I was going to extend my vacation. It happens when you least expect it, she continued, blushing at the recital of it all.

The hero image depicts the sun setting on Vathi’s bay on the Island of Ithaca, Greece, sailboats slowly shoring up for nightfall.

Boys and Their Toys

by , on
Jul 10, 2019
A picture of the entertainment district in Patras, Greece.

The young boys, maybe seven and eight, were high-strung after eating souvlaki. It was time to travel down the streets of Patras some more. The two families crossed the street. The older boys, maybe twelve and thirteen, were to go with the one mother, the younger boys with the other. The one young boy stood frozen, his back to the street, peering into the window of a retail store. The other young boy walked over to him, stood to the left of him, peered through the window too and put his right arm around the other boy’s right shoulder. The two—short, almost identical in height—would peer together at the toys in the shop’s window. The mothers kept talking but were getting ready to go separately. Over lunch, they spoke Italian; now they spoke English. Come boys, the one Mom said to the young boys. Come. The boy loosened his grip on the shoulder of the other and walked steadily to a narrow shelf outside that contained childrens’ books and put his hand upon some and held it still. The other boy, who originally took the initiative entered the toy store by four steps. Come on you two, the mother said. The boy loosened his grip on the books and came closer to his Mom and stood still; the initiating boy turned 45 degrees and stood staring up at the woman in silence. Come on you two. She would say again, intensifying but not yelling nor being menacing. The boy would continue to stand in the foyer of the shop. Come, come on. The boy would finally leave the shop and waddle behind the two of them, ever slowly, not looking down, nor looking up. The Mom and older two boys parted south cheerfully, the Mom with the young boys began crossing the street. Hands, boys, hands. The one boy would clasp her right hand, she would leave her left outward jarred behind her for a few moments as she walked, the two walking for the corner on the northeast edge of the street’s block. They would walk north then east in a dog-leg pattern around the sidewalk, the initiating boy would walk behind them, never taking her hand. She never asked again that day. Both young boys would walk crestfallen.

The hero image above is of the entertainment district of Patras, Greece. Patras is a port city, medium in size in western Greece, situated at the eastern tip of the Gulf of Patras which runs into the Ionian Sea.