Photo credit: Brian Richardson
Quirky and beguiling, often unwittingly funny, and always so utterly kind, the people of the Greek island of Sifnos charm and fascinate. They roar past on motorbikes with whole families squeezed on top, plus whatever earthly goods they can manage to hold on to. They live their lives in the open, their shouts, their squabbles, and their laughter in plain view of anyone who takes the time to notice. Open-hearted and spontaneous, they ply strangers with countless gifts… … and, impromptu, they invite a passing traveller to their wedding.
Filled with encounters and observation, gentle humour, and more than one unforeseeable twist, The Sifnos Chronicles is a narrative tale that takes readers along on this traveller’s journey through whitewashed alleys, into homey tavernas, across ancient marbled paths through the hills, and ultimately into the heart of this magical isle.
Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog Sharon Blomfield, who is going to tell us about the inspiration behind her travel memoir, The Sifnos Chronicles. Over to you, Sharon.
When The Muse Speaks by Sharon Blomfield
I still recall the exact moment, know precisely where I was sitting in that Greek island taverna. The taste of fresh herbs in the revithokeftedes, those chick pea fritters I’d polished off, still lingers on my tongue. My nose quivers still at thoughts of the hot olive oil that hung in the air. That tall man in the fisherman’s hat had just stuck his head through the front door and had started into another of those faux-Shakespearean soliloquies of his. It was at that very instant that the island itself grabbed me by the hand and gave a firm yank. There’s a book here, it said, and you are the one who must write it.
A book? A whole book? Not me. It was short articles I wrote, travel stories, not books. Plus, the ferry was about to arrive and in minutes would take me away. My time on Sifnos was finished.
The island, though, had other ideas about that.
When I’d arrived on Sifnos three weeks before, I’d found pretty much what I’d expected of a Cycladic Greek isle. Blue skies, marshmallow-white buildings, crimson bougainvillea spilling over it all. But almost right away I sensed something else, something quite curious, a sensation I’ve never felt anywhere else on my travels. It was as though I’d landed somehow in the middle of a story, one with a whole cast of characters carrying on around me, wandering through my days. Every morning the same ones would flock to the square to inspect the fishmongers’ wares, never to buy, merely to see who caught what last night. There was the family who thought nothing of squabbling in view of everyone in their taverna, the bossy mother-in-law in the corner peeling potatoes, the kids who’d ignore their mother’s loud orders and run in from the street and back out at will, the husband who’d bury his head in the TV and ignore it all, who we watched once turn up the volume when there were too many customers and he couldn’t hear. The Happy Greek my own husband dubbed him. That tall man in the fisherman’s hat who pretended to be Italian and thus more sophisticated, but wasn’t either, who you’d see every day squish himself into the cab of his tiny three-wheeled truck and tootle off across the island in search of someone – anyone – who’d pay attention to his latest outlandish antics. For those weeks I threw myself into their midst, waited to see what would happen and wisely as it turned out, recorded everything I could recall in my journal at night, laughing at so much of what I’d observed once more.
I revelled too in the kindnesses I’d received. The kindnesses, oh my. The generosity. The hearts so wide open, so willing to embrace even a random traveller like me. There were sweet treats galore at the end of most meals. The man who, after we’d paid, would invent a different excuse every time to pour us an ouzo. “To fight off the cold,” it was one balmy night, then he’d sit with us and chat for another hour or so. There was Coffee Shop Lady whose warm hand on my shoulder one morning spoke the words our lack of a common language couldn’t. And the dear woman we called Grandma who cut a bouquet of roses from her garden for me once, but snipped off every single last thorn before she’d hand them over.
The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, the book that muse of an island coaxed out of me, begins on that ferry two years later, this time in the moments before it lands on Sifnos again. Finished with this island, I was not. Hardly. Those characters and their faces were as real to me as though I’d seen them all yesterday.
I was under no illusions, though. We two Canadians were but tourists here, mere blips in the passing crowd that had surely numbered in the thousands in the two years since we’d been gone. Memories of us, if wisps of them remained at all, would have dimmed to almost nothing.
But once again, this island had its own opinion about that. As we walked down the alley on our way to dinner that first night, Grandma was exactly where I expected to see her and she rushed toward us with a smile and warm hugs once more. The Happy Greek was right where we’d left him and he spotted us right away as we crossed the square on our way toward his place. “You!” he exclaimed as we neared and his index finger practically jabbed my husband in the chest. “Two years,” he marvelled at how long we told him it was we’d been away. Inside, our usual table, the one with the best view of the goings-on, was still vacant and we sat down right where we’d left off. Ouzo man was soon back at it once more. Fisherman Hat guy too.
Over the next four weeks, there were more people to see again, and new ones as well, and twists of fate we never saw coming. A photograph my husband did on the first trip popped up again and in one heart-stopping moment cemented his connection forever with a family of fishermen and their tiny seaside village. A chance encounter netted us an impromptu invitation to one of those quintessentially Greek island weddings. High on a hill at the end of the island, the church was white and blue-domed, of course, and surrounded by the Aegean on almost four sides. The ceremony, bathed in the warmth of the late afternoon sun and presided over by two black-hatted priests, smashed forever my illusions about Greek Orthodox religious practice and how sombre it is.
That muse was right. A whole book was what I was living on Sifnos, and when at the end of a month we returned home, I began in earnest to write The Sifnos Chronicles, my tales from this Greek isle.
When a place calls to your heart as strongly as this one has to mine and says you must return, you must. As often as it insists you must. Nine more times to Sifnos since the events in that book and counting, in our case. And always, the island has made known its demands of me. There’s a second book now too. Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales, set six years later in that tiny fishing village, tells more of the fun, of the relationships with this island and its people and how they’ve grown. There is too my blog, The Sifnos Chronicler.
The message Sifnos had for me that day in that taverna was loud. I can’t wait to see this pandemic in the rear view mirror, to get back to my island again, to see what else it has in store.
Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Sharon, it’s made me want to travel to Sifnos immediately. Let’s hope we are all able to visit our favourite destinations again soon.
If you would like to get your own copy of The Sifnos Chronicles and do some armchair travelling whilst stuck at home, you can buy a copy here. The Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales is also available here. But if you’re on Sifnos, drop into To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop, in Apollonia. (https://www.facebook.com/Το-Βιβλιοπωλείο-The-Bookshop-Sifnos-270568056317513) Independent book stores everywhere need our support now more than ever.
About the Author
I am a writer and traveller who on my wanderings has found myself somehow invited to tour an odd hobbit-like house in the South Seas, to drink wine in the kitchen of a sunburned chalet in a high Alpine pasture, and to be a guest at a Greek island wedding. My stories and photographs have appeared in newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, among them The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Boston Globe and France’s Courrier International. I live in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada with my photographer husband and fellow traveller, Jim Blomfield.
The year 2006 brought us to Greece for the first time, to the island of Sifnos. It was meant to be a one-time visit but what I hadn’t counted on was how the kindness of its people and the unexpected adventures we encountered there would melt my heart and how we’d be drawn back almost every year after that, always for a month at a time. How Sifnos would turn me into a book author and a blogger.
Connect with Sharon:
Facebook: Sharon Blomfield