Last night we went for a walk to the far side of Hora town, to the top of a small hill capped by a monument and overlooking the bay. Several groups of local families and couples had parked their worn down cars at the top of the hill to watch the sun set over the isthmus at the far end of the bay. It was beautiful in the most simple of ways. We stayed on the far side of the monument, avoiding the sun until its final moments of descent, and incidentally avoiding the other people as well.
A young Greek girl, blond and blue-eyed, and clad in a pink dress, appeared around the corner to watch for several minutes, before finally running back to her family. Quite a while later, she returned with her younger brother, dark eyed and dark haired, and at least as cherubic as his sister.
By this point we were standing on the base of the monument, looking at the graffiti that had been etched into the rock, which by virtue of the fact that it was written in Greek, appeared to my eyes like writing from the ancients sitting out in the open on a modern structure.
The fusion of Greek writing etched into stone, one of the classic images of antiquity, with the etched names of a couple surrounded by a heart, a classic image from modernity, created a funny feeling of continuity. We calculated how many generations of people might have been living on Tinos. If one assumed that a generation was 20 years on average, then there were 5 generations to a century, 50 to a millennia, and roughly 400 generations of inhabitants total, assuming a 4000 year history of inhabitance. That somehow did not feel so long anymore. 400 generations was nearly in the scope of our imaginations.
The two living cherubs walked up on a higher level of the monument and stopped in front of us, staring expectantly with their enormous eyes. The sister had brought the brother to see the spectacle of the two foreigners. We looked back, thoroughly in love with these two divine creatures. On closer inspection, it was clear that sister was a tough cookie, with a large scab covering a still freshly bleeding knee and a rough and tumble bravado about her.
She began speaking, and the word Italian became distinguishable from the mélange of sounds coming from her. She seemed to be asking me if I was Italian, or perhaps if I spoke Italian. I said “Si” with the hope that she would then speak Italian, and that I would be able to understand something she said. She smiled and continued talking purposefully in Greek, sure that we would understand. Little brother stood by waiting for big sister to resolve the issue of the foreigners, until finally mutual frustration set in and they wandered back to their parents again.
It is an immediately unnatural feeling to be divided from young children by language. In every other way, the presence of children reminds one of the thread of undeniable sameness that permeates the various human tribes in the years before individuals begin to acquire the learned patterns of in-group behavior that make adults sometimes feel so foreign to each other.
We wandered back to town after the, predictably beautiful, sunset, along the harbor on what could be the only windless day of the entire remainder of the trip, enjoying the chance to linger in the heat without losing some article of clothing or baggage to the kleptomaniac currents of the wind.
We wandered through several pastry shops, picking up a few pieces of yet-not-experienced sweets to try after dinner or the next day. We wandered into small bodegas were the owners practically begged us to buy one of their island made delicacies, and we of course obliged, while wondering when we would find the appetite to each everything that we had bought. We continued to expand our vocabulary in Greek, and with each new word for a fruit or vegetable slowly articulated by various shopkeepers, I continued to marvel at the similarities to words I had known before in the Turkish language – portokal for orange, karpuz for watermelon.
We wandered down dark decaying alleys behind the main shopping streets of the town, where older drunken men sang what sounded like religious songs about Tinos, until finally we wandered back into the main streets and to the now regularly frequented gyro shop, where the owner was becoming more confident in his right to make good natured fun of us.
We wandered, saturated by the hot-off-the-grill, salty, yogurty indulgence of gyros, to the main square, where for the first time we stopped where the locals do, leaning on a small wall beneath a tree in the center of the square, to watch the world go by. The shrunken ones on their tiny bikes and their future selves on motorcycles, the girl walking with her grandmother, the endless groups of young’uns, mostly gender separated, sitting, waiting, and wishing at the tables of bars and cafes that dominated the sidewalks. The town appeared exceptionally family oriented, for in the middle of the square, surrounded by the bars and clubs, was a large playground, overrun with children even into the very late hours of the evening. I had yet to see the playground not swamped with children, even past midnight.
It felt as though the locals lived every stage of their life right here in this square, from birth to death.