Sunday, April 1, 2007

Donkey Time

In the south of Europe time is relative, and Santorini is no exception. Oia prepares for tourist season, but no one's in any hurry. Pathways and buildings are repaired at a donkey’s pace, since they’re the ones who carry cement up the narrow, winding passageways.

I ask when the internet café might be open, expecting to learn the hours; someone answers “In a week, or two, maybe a month.” Our landlord Vasilis says "Tomorrow, perhaps” when we long for a meal on the balcony of his restaurant. “Maybe coffee we’ll have,” he says. Meanwhile, an old man bends over rounded stones hour after hour, placing them one by one to fit snugly into a mosaic he is creating in a church courtyard.

Driving along the caldera, we stop at a famous Mexican restaurant called Senior Zorba. The owner is inside and I ask if he’s open for business. He seems to be from a place like New Jersey but has clearly absorbed the spirit of Greece. “We’re trying,” he says, and we follow his gaze to a mountain of beer cases and flour sacks in the middle of a disheveled dining room. He sighs. “Maybe… well… I don’t know when we’ll open.”

Simple meals are offered at a few local hangouts, and we choose one for supper on Saturday. The owner does everything and seems like a John Cleese character as he strides through the small dining room, in and out of the kitchen. Suddenly all the lights go out except for a couple of small emergency exit signs near the ceiling. A few moments of silence, then everything goes on as before: people eat, drink, talk, place orders and pay checks in the dark. The waiter races out with a birthday cake, its candles lit for a happy child.

Leaving the restaurant, we realize the whole town has lost power. We encounter our bookstore friend standing in the square, hands in his pockets, looking up at the full moon. “What’s going on?” I ask. He shrugs. “Just happens every once in awhile.” He lends us his flashlight to negotiate the steep path down to our house, but as we turn to leave, all the lights come on. Now it’s our turn to shrug; we hand back the light and continue on our way.


At April 23, 2007 at 7:25 PM , Blogger Jeff said...

Another nice story, Jan. I suppose there are few tourists at that time of the year. If more started coming in the spring, they might start getting ready sooner!

At April 25, 2007 at 1:45 PM , Blogger Dan said...

I enjoyed how you capture the laid back style of the culture. The title is perfect, as you know, I've never been to Greece but it felt like I was there reading your story. I've experienced that sort of foreign approach to things ("on island time" etc.) but it seems like this is exaggerated in Greece and I really got a sense of that.


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