THE ART OF ITALIAN DINING
(Santorini, July 24, 2010)
There is s small little house. From the half open window, against the white wall lie
countless vases of red geraniums. Through the ajar door, I see chairs, the table, a crucifix hanging on the wall, some bread, and a bottle of unlabeled wine, the bed and colorful pieces of fabric. There, on the faraway couch, a heavy woman, sweating, immobile, knitting a ball of black cotton.
Outside the sea. The golden sunset, starlings flying.
Each Greek island has its own identity. Each of them has a very defined personality. Even before stepping on one, the islands of the ‘Egeo’ will appear mysterious, primitives, wrapped in a dreamy atmosphere.
There is, however, a very theatrical, dramatic, unparallel island. A quintessence of all its Greek sisters: The volcanic Santorini.
Under a sky which is seven shades of blue, Santorini is the blue-white pearl of the Cyclades. “It has the unique and singular ability to intimidate. On seeing it, man suddenly feels very small indeed, distressed at coming face to face with such beauty,” said the French writer Simone De Beauvoir.
Boats slow down as they approach the caldera and planes begin their hypnotic, circular trajectories, slower than usual, almost as if in contemplation. At the bottom of that deep, dark sea gapes open the mouth of a volcano which has remained silent for centuries, as visitors stand dumbfounded on the ship’s decks or gaze out the windows of the planes in the presence of such solemn beauty.
Now the island is near. Santorini looks to my eyes as more “postcard” than I ever imagined.
To welcome me, whatever is left of its volcano that sank in the sea and created an outstanding composition of red, black and white rocks, 120 meters above water.
Right on top of that, on the rim of the ancient volcano, lies a scattering of salt on the edge of the precipice, a rim sprinkled with the whitest of snow; the villages of Fira, Firiostefani, Imerovigli, and Oia with their spotless whitewashed little houses, the blue church domes.
The show of the sun that slowly sinks in the sea takes me back to distant times when, at night, the old residents used to beg ‘Efeso’, the god of fire, for good sleep.
Today, however, Santorini risks suffocating by the boats and the airplanes that incessantly bring herds of tourists that often flood the 547 steps connecting the port of Fira to the town.
The restaurants, terraces, cafés and the characteristic alleyways are taken over by camera-holding individuals obsessed to take home the perfect picture, missing instead the real spirit of a quite and slow town like no others.
But there is hope even for those who love solitary walks in the ancestral silences that Santorini is still able to offer outside the chaos that the warm season brings to the island.
You just need to reach the paradisiacal island during the months of May and June, or waiting the end of summer and stay at one of those hotel de charme, adorable small hotels built in the antique caves on the sea.
Then, the original beauty of this Greek pearl will shine. The marble paving the small streets will start breathing again. Slowly, the cats and dogs, the old ladies knitting on the doorsteps will appear again.
A ten kilometers long walk lies between Oia and Fira, along a taut thread of land situated between the caldera and the volcanic and, a “filament” on which you can get lost amidst the alleyways or venture out onto the small, panoramic terraces. Here the artists, using egg yok to thin their colors, create heavenly landscapes with the blues of the ocean, the whites of the houses and the blacks of the rocks.
Walking down to the port of Ammoudi, framed by the red rocks, on the terrace of ‘Kyna Taverna’ I look at the fishermen playing chess. And a feeling of calmness takes over my body when, walking on the black beaches of Kamari and Perissa, on the opposite side of the island, the refreshing wind gabis , brings me back some peace.
The identical peacefully atmosphere of Therasia, Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni, the small islands of the caldera which overlook the crater of Santorini and where the legend says the big giant that destroyed Santorini sleeps.
A vain tentative to rebel to Zeus, when the sky became dark and a huge explosion sank, Plantone says, the historic Santorini.