I wouldn’t normally watch TV while on holiday but was prepared to make an exception today because England were playing Argentina in the Rugby World Cup and it was being shown at a bar in the village at eleven o’clock so we made arrangements to meet Martin and Lisa there and then went for a walk to the village for an hour or so before it started.
We walked to the top and admired the views of the port and on the way down stopped to talk to some fellow travellers. As we exchanged stories I saw what I thought was a lizard but quickly realised that it was a snake. Olive brown and about a metre long it slithered by and disappeared into a tiny crack in the steps. Later I asked Antonia who was surprised to hear of a sighting in the town and told me that a local naturist had reintroduced these serpents to the island and that they were poisonous. I am all for preserving the natural environment but that is just plain daft, as daft as Eugene Schieffelin introducing the starling into the USA or Thomas Austin releasing rabbits into the Australian outback. Daft also because although there is a medical centre on Ios for anything serious the only treatment is on the mainland and a snake bite would mean airlifting by ambulance back to Athens.
We walked around the steep and narrow streets and alleys to the windmills and through the shops that line the main street through the village and back to the main square and the sports bar where we duly watched England kick off their world cup campaign with a nervous and unconvincing victory against the South Americans. When the match was over we returned to Homer’s down the dusty track and after a short sojourn went for another walk to the harbour and along the coast road to the little church on the headland.
The road out of the village runs past the business end of the harbour and there were some brightly painted boats that had just landed their overnight catch and were negotiating sales with local people and restaurant owners in a babble of animated activity. It looked like a good night’s work and the trading was brisk. The fish looked interesting and on closer examination of the produce it soon becomes clear why we have to put up with stock shortages whilst the most of the rest of Europe have such an abundance of choice; we are just far too fussy about what we will eat and our preference for fish is restricted to two or three species that we have fished into crisis and near extinction whilst in Greece, as elsewhere, they will eat a much greater variety of sea food. We like to buy our fish in little blue polystyrene trays without heads, tails or entrails and ready for the frying pan but here the trays were brimming with fish so fresh that it was still alive and flapping about and winking at the prospective purchasers who were examining it.
On top of the church there was a Greek flag that was flapping uncontrollably in the wind and trying desperately to separate itself from the pole that was hanging onto it. The blue and white flag of Greece is called ‘Galanolefci’, which simply means ‘blue and white’. Originally it was blue with a white diagonal cross but the cross has now been moved to the upper left corner, and is symbolic of the Christian faith. Being a seafaring nation, the blue of the flag represents the colour of the sea. White is the colour of freedom, which is something that is very important to the Greeks after years of enslavement under foreign domination. The nine stripes of the flag each symbolise a syllable in the Greek motto of freedom: E-LEY-THE-RI-A-I-THA-NA-TOS, which translates literally into ‘Freedom or Death’.
There were preparations at the church for a wedding and a christening and later Kim returned to see the wedding and I joined her later for the baptism to see the ceremony of a little girl being accepted into the Christian Orthodox Church, which is a major event in the life of any Greek family. A Greek baptism is a sacred and religious rite that is performed on a baby to cleanse the soul and renounce Satan. The baptism is a complex initiation that starts with an exorcism and officially ends forty days later when the baby is presented to the congregation to receive Holy Communion.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to stop for the full forty days and we began to feel a bit like intruders on a private family event so before it was all over we left the church and returned to the harbour and instead of going to the Chora, tonight we ate next to the fishing boats that were being prepared for another night at sea at a place called the Octopus where, at pavement tables next to the fishermen, we were served excellent food and we were left wondering why we had always insisted on going back to the Mills restaurant on all of our previous visits.