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  • Shelley Dark

#5. the archives

I woke at 3.30am and opened the bedroom shutters to the sound of rain. Yesterday's wind had dropped and cold air rushed into the room. The pigeons I'd woken on the next door roof flapped their wings in protest then settled down again.

I worked on the computer till dawn.

Costas told me yesterday to go to the bakery near the Piraeus Bank. At 7am I wondered if my waterproofed shoes would stand the onslaught. The thought of bread fresh from the oven made me risk it.

The rain had flattened the sea to a millpond - unrecognisable from yesterday.

The polished stone walkways are slippery, more so when they're wet, so I picked my way carefully around the harbour. Where the streets empty out on to the wide quays, streams of water gushed across my path. The shoes held!

There were bags of rubbish lying against the house walls for collection by the teeny rubbish truck, one of only two vehicles on the island. 

​Cats had pulled a few bags apart and strewn the contents. This one was snoozing in the rain.

I found the recommended bakery up a little side lane. The shelves were still empty. 'Kalimera,' I said. 'Do you have bread this morning?'

'Yes, half a kilo or a kilo?' asked the smiling owner.  I had no idea but half a kilo sounded safe. The baker came out from the back of the shop, tipping his loaves out on the counter.

It was hot, straight from the oven. Under the umbrella, I held its warmth against my chest all the way home. Bread has never smelled or tasted so good!

I'm working at the computer again. Now and then I hear a heavier shower against the window.

I hope it eases before I go to the archives....

They're beckoning me from across the water...


I was a little apprehensive about my archive visit. Kelsey of had put me in contact with Stam, who had emailed to say he would help me translate. Then he'd emailed to say Mrs Adamopolou (the boss) had said it was not his department. I'd decided not to email any more, just in case positions became entrenched.

I was glad I hadn't. There were no entrenched positions. Stam does indeed work in another department. Today he was on the front desk. And Mrs Adamopolou is totally charming.

The archive manager Eleni (El-ay-nee) Mavroudhkou would help me. And a friend of the archive, Panagiotis (Pah-nah-yoh-tees) Amarianos. 

On the second floor in the archive room, I sat on one side of a huge table, while Eleni and P. on the other side spoke rapid fire Greek for what seemed like hours, turning pages of books, now and then asking me questions. Eleni's English was good, Panagiotis' just so-so.

At one stage, Panagiotis said, 'You are so kind. You have a special energy.' I was glad he thought so, as I felt I'd given them a huge job. And they didn't seem to mind.

Amazingly they have a comprehensive catalogue of 18000 archive pieces, but it didn't look promising. There were many people with the same name as the man I was looking for. Greek men take their father's Christian name as their middle name. None seemed to be the one. They searched for other people who feature in the story. No result. And I couldn't understand what they were saying to each other so I couldn't make suggestions. 

They did find details of a ship I was looking for - when it was built, who owned it, how long it was, its cost. Eleni made me a photocopy of what they'd found. 

I was fascinated by Panagiotis' glasses. They seemed to have thick cast silver arms, shaped like sinuous branches. I asked him where he'd bought them. 'I designed them,' he said. I was impressed.

'You should work for Bulgari!' I said. He laughed out loud. 'You know they're not silver, don't you?' I shook my head. 'Well they're not!' He laughed again, delightedly. 'I made them with sticky tape! I wound silver paper around and around, and then sticky taped over the top!' 

My new friends.  

While this was going on, another man in a black cassock came into the room and sat down on my side of the table. A brief hello then the other two ignored him. I put out my hand, 'I'm Shelley'. 

'I'm George,' he said. 

George started to put his bit into the search and the discussion. He got up and looked in cupboards. Panagiotis was at the end of a row of library shelves, rifling about. Now and then when P. called out, Ileni rolled her eyes at me, smiling.

George seemed interested in history so I asked him about the War of Independence. His English was very good. Standing on the far side of the table against the library shelves, he started talking.  And talked and talked and talked while E and P searched. I was riveted.

The Turks, the Muslims, the Ottomans, the Romans, the Byzantine (there is NO such thing and anyone who says so is a criminal!), the divided Greeks, the Jews, the Egyptians, Hydra, its sailors, dreadful massacres. 'Human life wasn't valued the way it is now. Things were very fluid,' he said. 'It's hard to make categorical statements.'

George sat down at the table again. 'Are you a priest, George?' I asked. 'Yes,' he said. 'I'm doing a thesis on a religious topic at about the same time in history as you are interested in. I come here to do research.'

'May I come to see your church?' I asked. 'I'd be delighted,' he said, and wrote down his name and the name of his church.

We seemed to have come to a dead end. Eleni gave me the photocopies, P. started to pack up his stuff. 

'So that's it?' I asked. 'There's nothing more I can do?' The three talked together. 

'I have a suggestion,' said George. 'Go to the cathedral. Enter the door under the clock tower. Go inside, and ask to be taken to the gallery. Then ask for the services of the municipality. You may find something there.'

Good old Georgios.

I thanked them all very sincerely, said I'd be back to visit (no I’m not finished yet, but gently gently!), and wandered into the museum proper. Exquisite swords and silver tooled pistols, Hydriot clothing and very old documents, jewellery and paintings. I bought a book about the museum contents with great photos. It works not allowing photography!

As I left, Stam at the front desk suggested that when I finish my book, I might like to launch it at the museum. Nice idea Stam! I love the way that you can just say you are a writer, and people believe you! Then again, I plan to earn the title one day.

It had fined up. You can see how close the mainland is, and how calm the sea today.

Panagiotis caught up to me a little way from the archives as I was photographing this group of cats, two sitting nonchalantly on an old cannon. Another standing up with his paws on the back of the park bench. 

Excitedly Panagiotis pointed out the building next door - the naval academy. It's been turning out ships' captains since 1749, mainly in the early days with Portuguese and Italian lecturers. Isn't that amazing?

I had no luck at the cathedral which was locked but I'll try another day. 

The most delicious mushroom risotto with truffle oil for a very late lunch. A side of steamed green spinach to make me as strong as Popeye.

This is Ilias who works at the restaurant. I thought he asked me if I'd like the bill. I said yes.

But he was actually asking me if I'd like some complimentary fruit - apple and orange. Peeled roughly like your mother used to - not like a fancy restaurant. It was surprisingly comforting.

This is the wooden staircase down from the restaurant, before the stone steps. It wouldn't do to have a skinful!

I said see you later to a lone donkey on the quay, a disc on her forehead warding off the evil eye. Then I made my way home. 

Even though I hadn't really had success at the archive, it was such a happy day. 

Until tomorrow buddies. I'm not sure what I'll do. Perhaps a little exploring. It will be a surprise for all of us!

I'll write a little now till bedtime. So it's night night from Hydra.....

shelley dark, writer 

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