I hadn’t planned on new shoes today. But then again, most days rarely go to plan in Greece.
Paros Island surrounded by the Aegean Sea is usually an island in the sun. On this September morning, though, setting out from my room at the Pension Rena Hostel, indigo clouds brood over nearby mountains. I hasten my pace down twisty lanes, past fragrant jasmine vines and bougainvilleas until I reach the waterfront lined with shops, tavernas, pedestrians and traffic. The fishermen's wharf is brightly carpeted with nets to be mended or cleaned; a centuries old livelihood thriving alongside modern day tourism.
Wading through Parikia
At the jumbled entrance to her souvenir shop, Maria is sweeping and tidying. She insists I join her for coffee, but I must first do my shopping – before the rain comes. I promise to return within the hour. Maria, her husband, Dim, and I are old friends now. We met ten years ago on my first visit to the island. Their long, narrow souvenir shop, open seven days a week, is crammed from floor to ceiling with every imaginable souvenir – ranging from T-shirts to worry beads, suitcases to coin purses, holy crosses to pornographic playing cards – and anything in between. If it's not on the shelf, Dim and Maria are sure to find it.
Dim speaks Aussie English, constantly stressing about money, shoplifters or the world situation in general. He was in the merchant navy for many years and lived for a time in Melbourne. Maria is more relaxed, her gentle smile often dissolving Bill’s anxieties. She speaks no English – or none that I’ve ever heard. She and I communicate pedantically in Greek; she patiently deciphering my questionable syntax. Many times she bursts into laughter possibly at some linguistic faux pax or profanity which I have unwittingly uttered.
I hurry across the park, over the little foot bridge, past the famous windmill at the port and into the new swanky square. It's difficult to remember the appearance of the old square, other than it was jaded, shabby and not kiddie friendly. The new version is expansive, creatively landscaped and clean. Children skitter around playing chase, kicking balls, riding bikes. I too feel like skipping or finding a bike to whiz around on. Instead, I locate the electronics shop where I purchase a new memory card for my camera.
By the time I detour to the bakery near the square, the skies have erupted with a prodigious downpour of rain – a veritable deluge from the heavens. Extremes of weather are not unusual at this time of the year when the season is changing. Last week the island was deafened by thunderstorms in the morning, then simmered beneath a heatwave in the afternoon. Perhaps the gods really do amuse themselves with we mortals.
This morning’s downpour is almost torrential in ferocity. The narrow streets immediately flood, rivulets surging into drains, frothing and bubbling into ankle deep ponds. Shoppers squeeze under awnings, shelter in shops, or brazenly run through it all. I linger in the warmth of the bakery, choosing little fruity almond delights doused with icing sugar. My favourite walnut cake, floating in honey teases my sensibilities. Baklavas and bougatsa tempt me in the display cases. I am strong; I turn my back.
Still, the rain has not abated. The din drowns out normal conversation; customers are shouting out their orders. With others I wait near the entrance clutching my precious bag of pastries. I was expected at Dim and Maria’s almost ten minutes ago. When the downpour dissolves to a sprinkle, I venture forth, my sparkly sandals immediately squelching with water. I try to skirt the puddles, picking my way with care for fear of slipping on the uneven pavement cobbled with Parian marble. Chilly grey street water squishes between my toes, sending icy shivers up to my knees. I slip off my sandals clutching them with my pastries and bag and slosh delightedly through puddles and whirlpools until I reach Dim and Maria’s shop.
Sodden sandal saga
Anxiously waiting out front, they welcome me like a returned warrior. They study me with dismay – especially my cold wet feet. Leading me into the shop, Maria swings into action fussing with tissues to dry my face and arms, exclaiming over the sodden sparkly sandals clutched in my hand.
How the Greeks love a little theatre. Each day is an act of either pathos or comedy: eyes rolling, hands on the forehead or palms turned upwards beseeching the heavens – the proverbial Greek tragedy. Always there is an undercurrent of humour, a glimmer that all will be well in the end.
I am dismayed when my anticipated hot coffee to accompany my fruity almond delight has been lost in the translation. For some obscure reason, Maria presents me with a frappe – one of those Herculean cold, watery coffees topped with froth – which the nation, especially taxi drivers and teenagers, thrive on. I know I’ll be wired until sundown.
Maria has placed my sandals out of sight. She begins rummaging in the back room repeatedly calling out the same question to Dim. More eye rolling. He disappears to help her. I listen to a rapid exchange of Greek far beyond my humble translation capabilities. Returning, she triumphantly holds up a pair of shoes: backless shiny 1950s plastic, slip-on scuffs with a lacy top. Wrong size. I'm relieved. Maria is disappointed. She returns not only with the correct size, but adds a pair of multi-coloured socks. Zesto, zesto, warm, warm. With bleak fascination, I stare at my transformed fashion statement.
How will I ever flip flop back to my room? What if that cute guy at the motor bike hire sees me? I console myself with the adage – I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.
Bemused, I sit self consciously, sipping my strong, cold, watery ultra-sweet frappe, grappling with my bakery delight while chatting with Sophie, a stout, kindly matron who has popped in for a visit, precariously perching herself next to me on a flimsy stool, listening intently to Maria’s portrayal of my stranding in the bakery, my ordeal through flooded streets, the indignity of cold, wet feet. Customers come and go. Sophie frequently gasps; her expressions embrace me with sympathy. I am wallowing in all this attention, this cosy cloak of comfort and nurturing. It reminds me of my first day in Greece; for some reason, Greek women tend to mother me.
Like a thunderbolt the caffeine kicks in; I’m feeling energised. Boldly, I add some simple Greek comments which Maria and Sophie understand; Dim looks on in amused bewilderment. We discuss the downpour – so sudden, so huge. What are we to do? So much rain. Can you believe it. The sky is blue again. Life is a drama. And I have new shoes.
You can more of Elle Madison's travels at her blog.