Monday, 15 July 2013

Skopelos pick-me-up

A late arrival scurries into the harbour in late evening

The yacht parking is right beneath the chora
A bell chimes four times. Doesn't matter which bell - Skopelos is supposed to have 120 churches, so it's anyone's guess what or who's swinging the rope. The heartbeat of Skopelos has slowed to resting pace. Four o'clock in the afternoon is hot. We're both down below. The town (and Alex) is sleeping off lunch, but traffic is busy in the harbour. Enki does a jiggly dance with her neighbours on the town quay as yet another out-sized ferry throws its wake against the breakwater.  I listen out for the run of anchor chain - who's going out? who's coming in? - and wonder why the ferries seem to pile up on each other in the afternoon rather than spreading out their schedules over the day.


A super-yacht called Barbie

His summer job
The crowds who swirl off the ferry and lounge with their beers and iced coffees in harbour front cafes are probably not thick enough to carry their owners through the lean months. It's pointed out to me that there are many fewer Greek motor boats out on the water than in the fat years because their owners can no longer afford to pay for fuel (and their taxes, one presumes), and I see that it's true. But summer is summer. She plays her part, no matter what the state of the economy, and throws her gaudy colours over those dreary well-chewed bones. For a couple of months, Greeks (and other Europeans, for that matter) can allow themselves to forget the mess they've got themselves in. And who would begrudge them the respite after six consecutive years of recession?

The bride wore white too

Life is....

Old Skopelos was a ship-building and trading town
Yesterday at the Folklore Museum, the young man staffing the place told me that when he wanted to come to Skopelos last February (to interview surviving friends and relatives of a dead poet) he couldn't. No boats at all going to Skopelos, nor indeed to Skiathos or Alonissos - no money in it for the boat companies, he was told. So the island is cut off in the winter? How do people survive? A century ago, or more, this was a big shipbuilding centre, but that's all long gone. How do people make ends meet when the tourists are gone? He doesn't know. "We Greeks have proverb," he tells me. "We always say that no year is as good as last year." He smiles sweetly.

These look like permanent residents to me

The young man, whose name is Ilias, is a post-grad student in Athens. He came to Skopelos two weeks ago to open up the museum, and when he leaves at the end of summer it will close again. I tell him about the closed museums we've encountered, and ask if it's normal. He looks at me as though I'm crazy. "No, it's not normal. But three or four years ago, all the museum employees were sacked." Like the government shutting down the national broadcaster and sacking its 2500 journalists? "You heard about that?" He seems surprised. Ominously, I'm told the next employees for the chop are in health and education. What then for Greece?

I have so many questions for Ilias, and for anyone else who will pause long enough to talk. But there aren't many. It's not just that I don't speak Greek, but living on a boat, as we do, we occupy a funny kind of nowhere land. As the world around us sees it, we're on holiday. "Don't be so pedantic," an Englishman jokes with Alex who is pulling on lines trying to straighten up Enki's stern against the wall of the town quay. "You're on holiday." It would be pedantic to argue the point, so we laugh at ourselves with him.

The Sunsail flotilla came to town on Friday night

Intimacy 2013 style

But really, we're not here on holiday like the people who are renting rooms or houses in the town, and those who are chartering yachts. We watch them, the families and the very young, the groups of friends and the new couples, and remember how bearable the lightness of being "out of the office" for a couple of weeks or, better still, a month was. But that was another life (and pertinently, it was pre-24/7 availability). So what is it exactly that we are doing now? Travelling, I guess. It was to be blue-water sailing, but we got diverted. So easily done in the Mediterranean.

Mojitos on the terrace

Skopelos is a fine place to linger in, and we've done that - given Alex's back a rest from the contortions which, even on a boat stacked with electric aids, are unavoidable when you're anchoring and mooring. He's looking fine now. Ready to move on. One more evening on the terrace above the film-set church, sipping mojitos (a cocktail fervently recommended by Sea Cloud) and looking over the pearly sea between Skopelos and Alonissos. One more night in the taverna at the end of the quay, drinking in the "live Greek music". You'd almost think we were on holiday!

So modern - wifi skyping with Barb at Planatos cafe

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