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Kaloni, Lesvos

Kaloni (from In Search of Sardeles Pastes)

    When we get to Kaloni it's like another world. The main street is full of auto and pedestrian traffic. Shops are open and the cafe's are full. While Pam, Andrea and Amarandi go about their business I search the market area for a fresh fish store that with any luck will have sardeles pastes. There are two shops but they are both closed. Apparently they open very early and close whenever they run out of fish. I am disappointed but still wander around the town thankful for level ground beneath my feet.
    Kaloni is built in an enormous valley that was once part of the bay of Kaloni. Unlike the traditional mountain villages, anything goes here architecturally and the town is a complex of modern apartment buildings crammed in between old stone houses and tumble down huts. Traffic is chaotic. It is the central village for this part of the island and has a city like feel to it.
    I run into the girls again on their way to a hardware store and I take Amarandi off their hands and to a park where she has me push her on every swing because each is in the shape of a different creature. She lets me escape to a cafeneon next door where I have a Turkish coffee but when she rejoins me, she spills it while helping me try to assemble a plastic robot Pamela has bought her. I'm noticing the people passing by. The girls are very pretty and in style. There are lots of soldiers who have come for supplies. There's a man who sells cheese pies from a cart mounted on bicycle wheels which he has parked outside the cafeneon while he goes in for a drink with his friends. A man stops his car in the middle of the street while he stands at the cart waiting for the proprietor to come serve him. This causes a minor traffic jam, but nobody really seems to mind. They just accept it as the normal course of events, and he does not even acknowledge them as he walks back to his car eating his tiropita. To him life is simple. He was driving. He saw something he wanted to eat. He stopped his car and he bought it. He never thought twice about the fact that he was parked in the middle of a busy street and that his tiropita was going to inconvenience other people. They were not his concern. His concern is the tiropita.
     Andrea comes to get me and we pick up Pamela and her hardware. While they go back to the tile store I drive to the town of Skala Kaloni, on the bay. It looks like a tourist trap. Post cards, bicycles for rent, and signs in English, but I find an old fish restaurant that might have possibilities. I return to Kaloni to pick up the girls but on the way pass a beach full of umbrellas and fat German tourists in bikini's. Opposite the beach is a hotel with a swimming pool full of men whose bellies hide the fact that they are actually wearing bathing suits. The place starts to horrify me and I begin thinking of alternatives to Skala Kaloni. Maybe a trip to Skala Polichnitou across the bay. Andrea and I had incredible sardines there a year ago. I look at the map but it appears to be a long way off.  Parakila seems like a better bet. I know there is at least one restaurant on the bay because we had gotten ripped off there last year. Maybe there is another, or maybe they've changed owners and we can get a decent meal and maybe even some sardeles. Anything but going back to Skala Kaloni which I am convinced has been hopelessly lost to the tourists.
     But I can't resist taking the girls there to show them what the town looks like. The second time through I am less put off by it and the Medusa Taverna looks like it has possibilities. Pam says that if we don't eat now we could spend the rest of the afternoon looking for a decent restaurant. She volunteers to go in and check out the menu and comes back all smiles.
     "It looks really good and they even have sardines!" We can't get out of the car fast enough. In the refrigerated glass case we see two trays overflowing with fresh sardines' plus a variety of other fish. We are so excited we can hardly wait to order. Then as I am gazing into the kitchen I see on the table a container of what looks like sardeles pastes. I ask the young owner.
     "Of course we have sardeles pastes", he assures me. I order a plate full and a bottle of ouzo. We also order two plates of fried sardines, a stuffed zucchini flower and beets with garlic sauce.
     They bring the ouzo first, a small bottle of Mini, with a bowl of ice, some bread and four glasses of cold water. I pour the ouzo but control myself waiting for the sardeles pastes. I am rewarded for my patience when they arrive at our table already peeled. I am surprised that they are not in oil or seasoned but I assume that perhaps this is the custom in Kaloni. No embellishments. Just plain raw sardines. This is the moment I have been waiting for and I sip my first ouzo in preparation. I take a small sardine by the tail, but stop short. I have forgotten. Do I eat the whole fish or do I pull it between half closed teeth, leaving the meat in my mouth and pulling out the tiny fish skeleton. I can feel the pressure mounting as everyone awaits my move. Even the foreign couple at the next table have taken an interest. I can feel my heart beating and the blood rushing in my ears.
     "This is it", I tell myself and eat the whole fish, bones and all.
 It's sad how earthly pleasures can never live up to the desires that drive you towards them. I suppose that is the motivation for a life of the spirit, the belief that God or self knowledge is the only thing that will ultimately satisfy. All other goals and desires will end in disappointment. This is how I feel as I eat the first sardine and look woefully at the whole plateful before me. If they don't taste any better then this it will indeed be a long journey. The setting is perfect: the large bay, surrounded by green mountains, with the small fishing boats which had brought in these very fish this morning, bobbing gently in the small harbor before us. What had gone wrong? I eat another, but still no beating of angels wings or trumpets from heaven. Andrea smiles with enjoyment but I can tell it's not a smile from the depths of her soul, but one with a touch of sadness. A smile that says she is happy because I am happy but she's not that happy because these are not that great. I smile back weakly, not wishing to shatter her fragile happiness. Several cats have begun prowling the periphery of our table, like demons come to taunt us for our fruitless love of the flesh. I sacrifice one of the precious fish and give it to Amarandi to feed to one of the cats, but it turns up it's nose and looks at us with undisguised amusement. By now the other food has arrived and is truly delicious. I use it as a reward every time I have eaten a sardine, and it seems to work. in a few minutes my plate is littered with tiny sardine tails. Finally there is one left. I take a small sip of ouzo, leaving one mouthful left in the glass. Picking up the final sardeles pastes I put it to my lips, and slowly eat it down to the tail. Then I wash it down with the last of my ouzo. It's delicious! That last morsel was everything I had hoped it would be, like the unexplainable sweetness in that last bite of an ice-cream sundae. Either the aura of sardeles pastes was completely psychological or I had been eating them incorrectly. I try to review the previous bites to see what I had done wrong. It must have something to do with the little ouzo ceremony I did for that last sardine, I am convinced. Once again I am caught in it's spell and I go into the restaurant to bargain with the woman in the kitchen. I must have more. How much will she sell me? She tells me to come back in an hour. I spend the time on the end of the dock looking out across the bay of Kaloni.
     "How many sardines are out there?" I wonder. the sea is surprisingly rough for such a closed area. I turn towards the inner harbor and look at the fishing boats, all ten to fifteen feet long and brightly colored, their nets piled on the decks. How exciting it must be when they come into port each morning full of sardines. I imagine their sailors calling out their prices to the people on the shore.

Then my eyes fall upon a very strange boat. In design it is like all the others, traditional Greek caique, except instead of the simple colorful painted hull, this boat is painted like an African disco. On one side of the bow is a strange mask where it's name should be. On the small cabin is written 'Peace', and the designs are wild and zigzagged. It is the only non-uniform boat in the entire Kaloni sardine fleet and I wonder about it's captain. Is he a black African who has made his home here and been accepted by the locals? Unlikely. More likely he is a free spirited young man, probably considered crazy by the other fishermen, with a taste for reggae or African pop. But it's as strange a sight here as John Lennon's psychedelic Rolls Royce must have been to London in the sixties.
     When I return to the restaurant the woman gives me a container of pastes. She charges me a thousand drachma.
     "Do you know why our sardeles are so good?" she asks me. "Because they are full of phosphorous. The Doctors of the island prescribe them for children who have trouble seeing at night." This sounds reasonable. More so then the olive oil washing into the bay story. I thank her and put my precious cargo in the car.

Kaloni 2 (from In Search of Sardeles Pastes)

    Pamela and Andrea are going to paint today. My job is to occupy Amarandi. After yesterday I'm sure that Amarandi would rather be occupied by anybody else but me. To test the waters we go for breakfast. She's another person. I teach her that if she says yassoo to people, they smile. She tries it once and it works. She is happy with the results and tries it on every old person who walks by, eliciting gigantic smiles on everyone as they say yassoo in return. She even eats all her eggs. Just as we are leaving, a gypsy woman and her child, a boy Amarandi's age walk into the cafeneon begging for food or money. The woman says yassoo back to Amarandi but does not smile. Amarandi wants to know why gypsies don't smile back when you say yassoo to them, and we embark upon another dialogue about these mysterious people with such good ears. I tell her that maybe she is not happy because she is so poor. We continue the conversation on our way to Vatousa where hopefully we can change some money at the post office. On the way we pass the gypsy families camp on the outskirts of Xidera. They have taken a clear plastic tarp and stretched over a corner where two stone walls meet, and layered the interior with blankets. Amarandi again tells me she wants to be a gypsy and live in a tent with lots of blankets.
     The Vatousa post office won't change our money so we have to drive all the way to Kaloni, Amarandi questioning me all the way. We pass through a huge black storm cloud on its way to Xidera and the western part of the island but it doesn't rain. When we reach the peak of the mountain we look down upon a spectacular view of the bay of Kaloni. The clouds leave shadows that seem to be floating on the sea, while the sun reflects on the waves. We descend into the valley and then onto the busy streets of the town.
    The first bank is packed with people and we search for an alternative which we find down the street and is only half as full. We are able to change five hundred dollars very quickly, buy an ice-cream, and get out of town in twenty minutes. We head towards the beach town of Skala Kaloni and wander the streets looking for a fish store so we can buy sardeles pastes for the old guys at the cafeneons in Xidera. I ask a woman for directions and she tells me that there are only fish trucks. Her husband is a fisherman and has not gone out in several days because of the weather. There is a very strong wind blowing on the bay and many of the fishing boats are missing from their berths, probably taken ashore for the winter. We go back to the Medusa restaurant where I tell the old woman that her sardeles from last week were delicious and then ask f she has any more. She sells me a kilo for a thousand drachma, and though I am not really hungry, we have lunch there anyway. Amarandi eats a whole plate of fried squid, while I eat something called agragarides, which translates to wild shrimp, but look like small deep-fried lobster tails, except you eat the whole thing, shell included. We are joined by one of the village idiots, a shepherd who claims he has eight children. Another village idiot sits at the next table. The first is toothless, the second has only two that look like fangs, protruding from the side of his mouth.
    An old British man shows us pictures of his grandchildren and strikes up a conversation. It's his first time in Lesvos but he has been several times to Corfu. "Anywhere you go in Greece is the same", he tells me with a voice filled with authority.
    Yes, it's the same if you are in a beach side hotel where you spend two weeks basking in the sun with other tourists, eating souvlakia every night at the nearest restaurant and then going for drinks at the bar which is as Greek as your local pub in Dorset. Sure all Greece looks the same when seen from a resort which except for the menu and the help might as well be Acapulco, Nassau or Portugal. But for the most part, tourists don't want Greece. They want somewhere they can relax, swim, sun, drink, eat and maybe even get laid, and they want it to be cheap. The fact that it's Greece is irrelevant.
     But he wasn't a bad guy, just a little naive, like many of his countrymen who swim in the great big murky shallow bay of Kaloni, unaware that beyond the mountains are beaches with clear blue waters that look like the travel brochure pictures that attracted them in the first place. In comparison this beach could be Blackpool on a good day.
     Amarandi and I take a walk on the pier where a small ferry from Mytilini, the Eressos II is docked. We speak to the owner who tells us that once a week he goes to Turkey. Then he does a three day trip around the island, staying overnight in several places. They are stuck in Kaloni because with the wind blowing in through the straights they can't get out.
     After stopping to buy some pompom evzone shoes we get back in the car. I have promised Amarandi a trip to a playground and rather then a return to the sun baked one in Kaloni, we drive back to Vatousa where it is shaded by giant pine trees. We pick up an old man hitching to Rhema and drop him off  on the road to Vatousa's upper village. Amarandi is confused, remembering the priest we picked up yesterday. "Why did he not look the same?" she asks me. I explain that this is a different man.
     We had been discussing war. She had asked me what soldiers were for and I was trying to explain the concept, using her and her friend Natalie fighting over a toy as an example. When big people do it and there are a lot of them, it's a war and then they get the soldiers to fight for them.
     We arrive at the playground which happens to be next to the old church and the graveyard which we visit when she tires of the swings. I explain that there are bones under the marble slabs. Some of the graves have photos of the deceased and I tell her these are the people whose bones are in the vaults beneath our feet. There are three small buildings that are filled with boxes, each with the bones of the dead. I explain that in Greece, because there is not a lot of land, they only let people be buried for a few years. Then they dig them up and put them in boxes so someone else can be buried there. The doors to the church are locked but we find an entrance to the upper balcony where we are able to look down at the old icons and wall paintings. It's a beautiful old church made of wood and stone with murals on the ceiling. It must have been a marvel of it's time. Now they use the large cathedral in the center of the village.
     "Why are the graveyards next to the church", Amarandi asks.
     "Because they think that they will be close to God  if they are next to a church".
     "But God is everywhere."  says Amarandi.
      Then she asks, "Is God even in Yew Nork?"

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