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  • Shelley Dark

#10 Maria

Each night I close the shutters to keep in the warmth. Each morning I open them, never knowing what the day's weather might be! Today I was greeted by cold and grey. Low foggy cloud hid the tops of the mountains behind the town, draining colour from the landscape. I was glad I was seeing it from inside.

Showers came across now and then. A few people were in chatting in small huddles under awnings, or hugging the sides of the buildings trying to avoid the wind as they walked. It wasn't heavy enough for umbrellas. You could have shot one of the town's cannons and there would have been no casualties.

The flags on the boats were stretched out in the wind. Most fly the Greek flag in blue and white. Some fly the independence flag of Hydra as well. It came into use at about the time of my novel.

It's full of symbolism of the struggle for independence of the Hydriots against the Ottoman Turks.

The cross represents Orthodox Christianity, and crushed beneath it is the crescent of Islam. The inscription on the bottom of the crescent is the battle cry of Spartan mothers who said to their sons 'Come back from battle with your shield, or on it.' In other words, come back triumphant or come back dead. I find that hard to believe. I think some male historian made that up. -:)

There's the head of Themistocles on the small red pennant on the right as a reminder of the victories of the ancient Greeks. On the left is the anchor of the Hydriot navy. The snake winding around the anchor symbolises Greek strength, the dove flying out of the divine eye of providence top left symbolises the hoped-for peace.

But it was time for me to go out! And I really do love the chill in the air once I'm rugged up.

I went to the archives again, hoping to see the boss Mrs Adamopolou, just to touch base and discuss what might be in the archives but not turned up the other day. Where I might look next. 'May I make an appointment?' I asked. 'Perhaps she'll be in after 1pm,' Stam said. 'Come then.'

I went upstairs to tell Eleni two names she had requested the other day. She happily searched again, found some information but it was inconclusive. I had an appointment with Maria the historian at 11am so I had to go. 'May I come back this afternoon?' I asked. 'Tomorrow morning would be better,' said Eleni.

I was waiting at the clock tower at 11am when my phone rang. 'I'm coming, I'm coming!'

As she walked towards me, I was struck by Maria's beauty. Long raven hair pulled back, beautiful eyes, fair skin. Elegant. And a dazzling smile. She kissed me on both cheeks. 'Its so good to meet you!' we both said at the same time. "You are family!' she said.

Her father has a deep love of history and she has inherited it. She's a historian, a teacher, a guide. Born on Hydra, she went to Athens for six years to do her degree and then she came home to where her heart is. She has a brother and a sister and she lives alone. Now she combines teaching, guiding and researching to earn a living. She may return to Athens to do another degree. I wonder if she has a boyfriend.

We went to her cousin's restaurant and coffee shop, Sinialo. I was made to feel very welcome and exclaimed over, with her two cousins coming to hug me as well. Maria and I didn't draw breath. She is very excited at my research, my book, and almost clapped her hands in delight at the places it is taking me. I'm living her dream.

At the moment she is researching the mansions of Hydra, which will take her until May. Then in the summer she will be able to research my subject, both here and in Athens where she is sure she will find information. 'I will send it all to you, translated,' she said. 'It will be wonderful for my research too. Perhaps I will write a history book about it, while you write your novel.' Can you believe that? A collaboration!

Time for a photo call on the footpath. Maria, her cousins and me. Aren't they all gorgeous???

I'll see her tomorrow at 11am for our tour. And we spoke of perhaps having a meal together at some stage.

There's a vehicular ferry that is moored at the dock most days. They were unloading donkeys, seasoned travellers!

For me it was time for lunch at Piato, with its new festival wreath!

You can see why they call it Piato. There are hundreds of plates on the walls and many more stored on ledges. Certainly more plates than customers. I suppose in the season you'd be flat out being served for the crowds. Mumma Katerina said 'I've just made some octopus pasta. Would you like some of that?'

I'm not so keen on octopus. 'What about dolmades?' I asked. 'Eileen says you make wonderful dolmades!' Mumma laughed. 'Yes Eileen likes them very much!'

So did I. I don't think I've ever had really proper dolmades before - light, filled with mince, and the most delightfully rich lemony sauce.

I went back to the Archives at about 2pm and Mrs Adamopolou was not there. The woman behind the counter would have preferred I'd stayed at home. 'Perhaps tomorrow morning,' she said in a disinterested voice, rolling her 'r' in 'tomorrrrrrrow' and drawing out the mawwwwwwwning. The mawwwwwwning ended up down under the desk somewhere. 'What time?' I asked, 'May I make an appointment?' She shrugged negatively and turned down her mouth. Obviously we don't do appointments. 'When shall I come?' I asked again. Shrug. 'We open at 10am.' I wonder if Mrs Adamopolou knows how elusive she is.

'I'm awfully sorry but I left my power bank up in the archives this morning,' I said. Her eyes said, oh for god's sake. 'They're CLOSED. Come back tomorrow.' I gave my best pleading look. 'I do need it before then,' I said. Her eyes rolled completely backwards in her head. She grabbed some keys and muttering, started up the stairs. I traipsed along before she could change her mind. When she unlocked the door, there it was, on the big table. Thank goodness. I thanked her profusely.

I went looking for the shop, Spoiled! And found it. Closed. For the season, or just for lunch? I'll find out tomorrow. At the front door, an Oscar Wilde quote which explains the name. All charming people, I fancy, are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction. It's probably true! And I think it will be quite a nice shop!

Speaking of charming, there was rather a charming painting in the window...

I'm rather fond of this boat which is moored in the harbour. It has a cartoon quality about it, rather like Sea Bird don't you think?

And another Ydra door for you.

The Greeks like most Mediterranean countries, believe in the evil eye. The tourist shops are full of the nazar jewellery and curios. They also ward it off by putting garlic over their entrance doors.

I'll leave you with some lavender. It's growing beside the steps up to my apartment.

It's been a great day hasn't it? Maria seems to have been such a find. Is she my muse? Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Talking about finds, I haven't told you that there has been a flurry of wonderful emails back and forth from the Englishman on the plane. For a ship's captain he makes a fine historical researcher! Am I not blessed?

I'm looking forward very much to our tour tomorrow!

Until then buddies, I wait you.

ps. I'll tell this story again for those who don't know why I say 'I wait you'. When we were in Istanbul in 2015, I asked a big burly youth taking tickets for the double-decker bus what time they were leaving. We wanted to buy some lunch in the meantime, but didn't want to miss it. He looked straight into my eyes and said with a deep guttural accent, 'Please buy your lunch. Don't worry. I wait you.' I've never forgotten it!

shelley dark, writer 

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