The wind is blowing fiercely. Our ferry heads directly towards a sheer cliff. It looks as if we are going to smash into the giant cliff face. Then I notice a narrow line of buildings huddled together at the base of the cliff. This lonely group of buildings and narrow road does not seem large enough to receive the avalanche of human bodies and cargo that is about to erupt from the interior of our ferry. I stand with my husband, my son and my daughter in the bowels of the ferry waiting to disembark. The sea is rough and we wait for the ferry to steady. Finally, the giant ramp begins to slowly lower. As the giant ramp lowers, a digital version of Fur Elise plays eerily over and over again, a strange accompaniment to the methodical, mechanical descent of the back flap of the boat. As the ever widening patch of light and the howl of the wind entering the dark interior of the ferry, the light melody repeats as if we are trapped in a giant music box.
We get off the ferry and walk onto the port with our bags in tow. I am supposed to meet Aris. He is going to take us to our apartment in Oia. Aris is somewhere in one of these cafes called Spartakos. I have no idea where I am supposed to look. My husband thinks I have been had. For a moment of panic I walk up and down the narrow strip of restaurants looking for Aris. Here he is smiling as he walks towards us. Our bags are in his car and we are heading up a narrow road, criss-crossing switchback style, back and forth, back and forth up the cliff face.
We live in a beautiful cave located in the center of a painting. This is Zoe’s House. In front of us we see the caldera. To the right and to the left, the town of Oia wraps around the curve of the lip of the ridge of the volcano. My bathroom is at the back of the cave with the sink made of a lava rock. The shower falls from the sky like rain and a giant lava rock extends upwards from the floor next to the shower in case you need to lean on something while you bathe. We breakfast on Greek yogurt, honey, bread and fruit which Zak the owner brings us.
How do I explain the caldera. The inhabitants of Oia are living on the rim of a giant volcano that exploded and sank into the ocean 3500 years ago. The explosion was the largest in the history of the world causing a tidal wave that destroyed the Minoan civilization in Crete. Some believe that the lost city of Atlantis was here and sank when the volcano exploded. I like that theory the best. Now the people live here along the edge of the cliffs, their homes clinging to the top like snow. My husband and I sit on the balcony that looks out at the caldera. We are mesmerized, our gaze transfixed on the view. “Did you know it was this good?” he asks me. “I had no idea,” I respond. Inside I feel the thrill of the accomplishment of having impressed my husband, not an easy feat. You can feel an energy. The ancient power of earth still resides here; the power of creation and destruction.
In the town of Oia is a bookstore filled with books and ex pats. This is Atlantis Books. Down a sunken staircase, we enter the cave of Atlantis Books. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust from the bright outdoor light that reflects off the white buildings of Oia. As my eyes adjust, I begin to see bookshelves extending from floor to ceiling overflowing with books. Windows are tucked away, shrouded by partially drawn curtains. Behind the curtains are deep set window seats that double as beds. In the corners are bunk beds. At night, the young people who work behind the counter crawl sleepily into the nooks and crannies to sleep. When the sun rises, they stretch like cats and crawl down to continue their work in the book store. The store is filled with young people who have washed up on the shore of Santorini to spend a few days, a few weeks or a few months working in the utopia of Atlantis Books, paid only by ξενία (xenia), guest hospitality.
In Oia is a public pool called Lioyerma Cafe Pool Bar. We decide that a pool would be a lovely way to spend the day. I imagine the public pools of San Francisco with the echo of squealing children and the smell of over chlorinated water. Max is almost two and just starting to learn to swim with arm floaties. When we arrive, this public pool is more sophisticated than its San Franciscan equivalent. It is serene and quiet. The southing notes of Kenny G float from the sound system. A waiter dressed in a tidy uniform brings drinks on a platter to the lounging patrons who lay half dozing on the cushioned chaise lounges that surround the pool. No one is in the pool. Undeterred, my motley crew strips down to our bathing suits and claims a spot under the umbrellas. I order a glass of wine and write in my journal. The pool looks out over Santorini’s opposite slope from the caldera. The view is surreal; the endless blue of the sea is dotted by white sailboats.
Max is at first excited to swim. Gradually, as it grows closer to nap time, his squeals of joy turn into cries of frustration as he struggles to master the floaties. Exasperated, he rips of his floaties and then protests loudly as his father puts them back on his arms. The discord sounds of the power struggle drowns out Kenny G. One of the women patrons sits up, looks at us with disgust and yells “shut up.” I turn bright red with embarrassment and quickly pack up our belongings and pay our bill.
Zak tells us of Akritiri, the ancient city of Santorini. Excavations of this city began in 1967, the year I was born. The archeologists found a city, frescos and other elements that suggested a link to Egypt and the Minoan civilization in Crete. The frescos of the blue monkeys depict creatures of a different land as there are no monkeys in Santorini. What the archeologists did not find buried beneath the ash were bodies. Sadly, in 2005, a part of the roof collapsed and killed a tourist. Zak tells us that the site remains closed in 2010, tied up in the red tape of the Greek court system. The people of Akritiri were warned of the impending explosion and fled. For me, this thought is the most intriguing. How did they know? Where did they go? I stare intently at the horizon.
Life is an adventure, not a destination. Live it with a thirst for mystery and a hunger for beauty.
Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. – Plutarch