After the first few weeks, I didn’t know what day it was.
By that, I don’t mean that I didn’t know if it was a Monday or a Tuesday. I didn’t know if it was a Monday or a Saturday. The only day I ever knew that summer was Sunday, which was marked by church bells and the voices of the psaltes (singers) in the nearby churches.
Once the churches quieted, that day unraveled like every other day, until again, on some seemingly distant and arbitrary morning, the psaltes would be heard and I would know it was Sunday again.
My wife and I were in the process of moving from Massachusetts to California. We’d rented our condo in Boston in May and planned to start looking for a place in San Diego at the beginning of September. In the meantime, we were living on Skopelos Island, swimming, eating olives, drinking hima (fresh barrel wine) and helping the last of some ancient nuns maintain a crumbling monastery.
Life on the island was relatively cheap, and the rent from our condo in Boston was kicking off enough money to more than support us. We realized towards the end of that unbroken summer that we could stay another year or decade as easily as another day.
“You could write that novel,” my wife suggested, “and I could keep volunteering at the monastery and we could just… stay.”
The predictable objections resounded. We were young, educated, and suitably ambitious. How could we consider throwing away another season, or year, or decade of our lives? The idea seemed indulgent and wasteful. There was, after all, so much to be done.
At least, that was the thinking in the part of our minds still rooted in the ever-measuring world we’d left, where the only conception of time was linear and limited.
As J.M. Coetzee put it in ‘Waiting for the Barbarians:’ “Empire has created the time of history. Empire has located its existence not in the smooth recurrent spinning time of the cycle of the seasons but in the jagged time of rise and fall, of beginning and end.”
This ‘time of history’ is indispensable to empires, because it’s necessary for quantification, in order to measure acquisition and accumulation.
But on the island, the time was circular and charitable and expansive. The days and seasons did not deplete; they renewed. The past and future existed but were as far apart as memory and dreams. In between, there was the sea, the sun, the olives, and the wine, and they were endless.
Another Greek island, Ikaria, was the subject of a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, because of the extraordinarily long and healthy lives enjoyed by its residents. The article, entitled ‘The Island Where People Forget to Die,’ cites lifestyle, community, and diet as the reasons why. While all those things certainly contribute to health and longevity, I think the real reason is something else entirely, something much simpler, if less evident.
It’s because time on Ikaria, like it was that summer on Skopelos, is circular and charitable and expansive. And where the days renew so, accordingly, does life itself.
As for us, we departed at the end of that season and returned to the tick-tocking world. It seemed to have only gotten faster in the time we’d been away — and has gotten faster since. We intend to circle back before it runs itself out.
That novel, which was inspired by that timeless summer on the island, was eventually written and is available here: The Last Island.
19 thoughts on “Living Forever on a Greek Island”
Great post, David. Took me back to the six months I spent on Corfu in the early 70s. Haven’t written the book yet, but did put up some blog posts. http://melissashawsmith.com/2013/10/17/greek-island-adventure-part-2/
Thanks, Melissa. I love Corfu as well — though haven’t spent too much time there. ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is always on my bookshelf. I’ve read it a good number of times.
I’ve always told people I dream of making it to Greece someday. I’ve never seen a picture that hasn’t been astounding. I hope you do get to circle back eventually.
Hi Davis, I wonder if you remember me. Your writing is poignant, real and sufficiently ethereal. Like an island…well done on daring to do it. Lara
Of course, Lara. Great to hear from you!
I meant David!
I love your trilogy about time circular charitable expansive but in particular charitable – of course time all the time in the world to be who we are meant to be and having that time perhaps makes us more giving more open …
I am still on the island not greek and the beach is a half hour drive away but the forest still sings me every day and though I write the publishing is yet to happen… but I do have ‘time’ in bucketfuls.
I completely feel what you are saying. We are in Paros right now! Living and from here is heaven!
I’ve always dreamed of living out my days in such a setting.
It sounds dreamy, one day…
Great home page – the link to buy the book does not seem to be working! Is buying through you a better deal for you than from Amazon?
Hi. Thanks. I’ll recheck the link. The book is also available at most of the other major online sites.
A comforting post 🙂
Thanks, Linnet. Since we’re all living on our own ‘islands’ at this time, I thought it might be appropriate.
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What a lovely opportunity for you and your wife! I visited Rhodes, Santorini, Athens, and Mykonos two years ago. Can’t decide whether Oia or Mykonos is my favorite, so I guess I’ll have to return. 🙂
All beautiful islands. Yes, you should return to Greece to decide! We continue to go to Skopelos every year — though this year will likely be the exception.
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I’m curious what year you were there on Skopelos. It was a wonderful place in the mid-80’s when i was there. I visited 4-5 times and stayed more than two weeks one time. The pics i see now looks so modern and classy, although that’s not bad for the people that live there i guess, i just loved the old Skopelos, much more personable to me anyway.
This article was about a summer we spent there in 2000 or maybe 2001. We’ve been going there for 20+ years and were just there in July. I get what you say about the old Skopelos. But through all the recent changes (pre-Euro, Euro, post-Mama Mia) the island has managed to retain its charm and appeal.