Like so many people have before me, I came to Santorini intending to stay for a few days… and ended up in a tourism office to change the date on my return ferry ticket. My visit to the famous Greek island couldn’t be timed more perfectly. Spring is here and the weather is beautiful, but it’s still too early in the year for the droves of tourists who will flock to these parts to walk through these glorious hilltop labyrinths of alleys and whitewashed houses. It’s the calm before the storm. The locals are re-opening their shops and restaurants after a quiet winter, the painters are busy restoring the blinding-white exteriors of the pumice buildings, and everyone seems to be enjoying lighter workdays and the freedom of movement which is afforded by this temporary absence of traffic.
Through my couchsurfing hostess, Sunny, I’ve met 27-year-old Panagiotis, a young man who was born in Canada to Greek parents, and who works with them through the high season in their lovely restaurant, Candouni, in the postcard-perfect village of Oia. He spends his winters visiting friends and family in Montreal with his folks, until the warm weather returns and calls them back to Greece. Now the sun is back, and Candouni is open for business.
Panos is good at what he does. He’s fluent in Greek, French and English, and a natural conversationalist. Like his parents, he’s an intuitive host, and one immediately feels welcome and at ease in their cozy establishment. He’s also one of the best multi-taskers I’ve ever seen at work. He moves from table to table with ease, pouring wine one second and serving out a spoonful of vegetables the next, all the while chatting with the patrons with a genuine friendliness that can warm anyone’s heart.
In a few months’ time, his Canadian girlfriend, Penelope, will be joining him for a second summer on the island to help out with the restaurant. Though the physical distance between them now is substantial, she’s never far from his thoughts. And when he found out I was a tattoo artist, it wasn’t long before arrangements were made for him to get a tattoo that he’s been planning to get for a while. On my second day in Santorini, he arrived at Sunny’s house with a collection of lips; with this tattoo in mind, he’d asked Penelope to put on some red lipstick and kiss a sheet of paper a few dozen times. We chose a kiss we both liked… and soonafter it was permanently planted on his shoulder blade.
He also got a small flock of swallows around his arm. He’s woken many mornings to the sight of these agile birds dodging and swooping across the sky just outside the window of his ‘cave’, a little cubic house nestled among the hundreds of closely packed buildings that millions have come to visit and photograph on the edge of the caldera. Life on Santorini is something else… It’s no wonder Panos wanted to capture and commemorate some of this energy and out-of-this-world beauty with a tattoo.
In a few days I’ll be leaving this sublime beauty behind and returning to Athens to begin my big push towards the west. I won’t soon forget my time here, though. It’s been so wonderful to spend time with the locals in a time when no one is hindered by the demands of the high season. I’ve felt privileged, in fact, to see this side of their lives. I truly hope to return one day, (during the low season, of course!) but with a lover or a friend. For I truly believe the only way to get more out of a place like this is to have someone you love by your side to share it with…