Here on Sifnos I like to sit in the square of Apollonia or on the rocks at the end of the port in Kamares and watch the world (and cats) go by. The sights at the square seem to center on all things local. People running into the pharmacy, or grabbing a spanikopita at the bakery, or slowly sipping bitter Greek coffee under the grape arbor of Lakis, one of the oldest kafeneio on the island.
The port here on Sifnos is a bit more international. When the ferry ship booms its horn, people press against each other and things change. A cluster of taxis appear out of nowhere, gleeful greetings bellow out in more languages than I can identify. You can actually feel the rumble from the wheels of a hundred rolling bags. It’s the picture of the sheer exhilaration of travel.
I guess it wasn’t always like this. When it comes to the vibes of a Greek island I keep hearing the same phrase: “You should have seen it 30 years ago.”
But as I sit on my bench it’s hard to feel the blight of mass tourism here on Sifnos. Sure there’s the ferry chaos, but Sifnos still feels like an out-of-the-way island with its own unique character.
But, of course, things change. I’ve even noticed some changes since I’ve been here.
We arrived at the beginning of April. We were probably the only tourists here at the time. Not much was happening. Fortunately a small restaurant called Tselementes was open at the top of the “main drag” known as the Steno. The restaurant is named after the famous Greek Chef Nicholas Tselementes, the father of Greek cooking. I wrote about him previously and superficially here, but you can find out more about him here if you prefer a more academic reading. The family that runs this small but excellent restaurant claims some distant kinship to the famous chef. But that’s not the point of this post. Today I want to talk about change. The change I saw here on Sifnos and more generally the change that’s in the air.
We first came here when the flush of springtime was just beginning to warm the air. Wild flowers were everywhere. Yellow and white daisy-like blossoms danced in the breeze. Purple lupine crept over the walkways. Red poppies filled the fields. The lyrics from the poppy song in the Wizard of Oz kept popping in my head “You’re out of the woods. You’re out of the dark. You’re out of the night…”
The wildflowers were so plentiful and so colorful it’s no wonder I’m making Technicolor references. I recall during those first few wondrous hikes around the island shuffling through the dense and fragrant growth, friendly bees buzzing in my ears. In some places the waist-high blooms engulfed the trail and nearly forced this hiker to turn back. We also collected herbs on these trails: sage, rosemary, and thyme. Bringing yet another song from my youth to mind.
But things change and we were lucky enough to be here through the change as the wild flowers slowly gave way to tall green grass swaying with the wind. But even the green grass is subject to change. It’s now turned golden. By July much of the island will be brown and parched. I won’t be here for the winter rains, but surely that change will come too and the cycle will begin again.
We often sit outside on our terrace overlooking the sea before bed. There are a sprinkling of islands scattered along the horizon: Syros, Paros, Sikinos, Ios, Folegandros. When these island’s lights come on they form a kind of sparkling diamond necklace. Most nights the lights of the neighboring islands and the stars above twinkle together in their own light show. However, every third night or so we can see a cruise ship drift past making its rounds between Mykonos and Santorini. It doesn’t stop here on Sifnos, but I can imagine that someday it will and the simple light show I’m watching now will be forever changed. A change that seems as predictable as the cycle of wildflowers. Suddenly I understand, and I do wish I’d seen it 30 years ago. GREG