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Idyllic, Yet Never Idle

by Joyce McGreevy on April 3, 2017

The Chora, the original capital of Serifos inspires wanderlust to visit this tiny Greek island in the Cyclades. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Parts of the original Chora, the hilltop capital of Serifos, date back to 3 BCE.
© Joyce McGreevy

When Wanderlust Leads to Serifos

I’m on Serifos—and the side effects are wonderful. What sounds like a lyrical Big-Pharma trade name is actually a tiny Greek island, part of the Cyclades southeast of mainland Greece. Wanderlust has led me here. Around 225 of Greece’s 6,000 islands are inhabited. Their populations quadruple with tourists every summer.

But I’m traveling in January to the bafflement of friends. Why Serifos? Why now? One high-powered chum tells me, “Wait till summer, go to Hydra, Mykonos, or Santorini. There’s a fantastic party scene and I’ll introduce you to a TON of contacts.”

And there’s your answer, folks. Because I don’t want to do “the scene,” exchange business cards over cocktails, sign up for “kick-ass Pilates classes,” have my aura read, my spine realigned, or my roots touched up.

I want to just be.

A boat in the harbor at Serifos symbolizes the author's wanderlust to visit this tiny Greek island in the Cyclades. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Serifos in winter: I saw more traffic in the water than on the road.
© Joyce McGreevy

“The Journey Is the Thing”—Homer’s Odyssey

A crewman on the ferry at Serifos makes work into art on a tiny Greek island in the Cyclades. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Ferryside Theatre?
© Joyce McGreevy

I make the five-hour journey by ferry from Piraeus, Athens’ main port, to the Cyclades with laptop in tow. The plan is to divide my time between meeting deadlines and exploring the 30-mile square island.

As the ferry nudges the shore, crewmen stride the descending ramp, nimbly riding its metal edge to the pier and tossing the ropes. Inky night and the Aegean Sea surround us. The darkness is deep, the stars spectacular.

Christos, my host, is there to greet me. His family has traveled from Thessaloniki to make ready what will be my home for the next month.

The house is newly built but traditionally designed, gleaming white with blue trim. Inside, stone walls have been sculpted into counters, shelves, and bedside tables.

On a rain-swept winter’s night, this is heaven. As I unpack, there’s a knock at the door: Athina, Christos’ mother, brings supper on a tray. It’s a good omen when the namesake of the Goddess of Wisdom visits.

A house on the tiny Greek island of Serifos in the Cyclades evokes both wanderlust and a sense of home. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

In tiny Serifos, Christos’ Seaview Modern needs no address, its road no name.
Mail sent to “American lady who talks to cats” would have reached me.
© Joyce McGreevy

Mythology and the Everyday Epic

I settle into pleasant routine, dividing my day between work, walks, and classes. The classes are online: Greek history, language, mythology. According to myth, wing-footed Perseus washed up on Serifos as a baby locked in a wooden chest. Years later, the island’s king sent him on a suicide mission to slay the Medusa. But Perseus returned, using Medusa’s head to turn the king—and Serifos—into stone.

As I gaze up at the commanding heights of stone peaks, the presence of Perseus and other immortals seems completely plausible. In this setting, it’s thrilling to read Homer’s Odyssey, as the hero’s longing for home plays tug-of-war with wanderlust. I read, then head off on rambles of my own.

Hikers on a stone path in Serifos understand the wanderlust to visit this tiny Greek island in the Cyclades. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Springtime in Serifos: a walk with Athina and Aleka.
© Joyce McGreevy

Oh, I see: On an island, everyday moments become epic:

  • Skirting seasonal ponds by navigating through neighbors’ gardens, a delightful workaround
  • Savoring the only sound at night, the whispering of the sea
  • Witnessing the gradual approach of spring, like a ship on the horizon, as tender grasses and wildflowers re-emerge and trees become “birdful” again.
A garden on the tiny Greek island of Serifos in the Cyclades invites those with wanderlust to wander through. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

On Serifos, a rain-blocked road is an opportunity, not an obstacle. 
© Joyce McGreevy

Low-tech in Paradise

When Homer’s Odyssey takes our hero to Scheria, he finds a magical land with self-steering ships and self-harvesting crops, yet women still do laundry by hand. On Serifos in the off-season, I have superfast wifi, but my washing machine is a bucket. When I ask a local what time the town’s laundromat opens, she replies Aprílios—“April.”

Christos offers to have someone do my laundry, but neither I nor my minimalist wardrobe warrant the fuss. Better to take a leaf from the Scherian women. Hanging laundry outside becomes my favorite ritual, a meditation on the elements—sea, sky, sun, and the mineral richness that speckles this green and rocky earth.

Laundry on a patio in Serifos, a tiny Greek island in the Cyclades, evokes the simple pleasures that come from wanderlust. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

You won’t find this at a laundromat.
© Joyce McGreevy

No Stereotypes on Serifos

The winter population of Serifos hovers around 1,200, excluding small herds of friendly cats. The people are friendly, too, infinitely patient with my child’s-level Greek. I study every evening before bed, letting the words percolate into my dreams. As Homer’s Odyssey says, “There is a time for many words, there is also a time for sleep.”

A leaping cat in Serifos, a tiny Greek island in the Cyclades, shows that wanderlust isn't limited to humans. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

The colors of sea & sky, sand & stone are everywhere on Serifos.
© Joyce McGreevy

Sigá-sigá (“step by step”), says Christina, a local shopkeeper. She, Athina, and others help me gather a living glossary from this small, rich universe—words for sky and clouds, wildflowers and windmills, honey and olive oil. At one taverna, the staff is fluent in English yet take the time to coach me in Greek. The syllables taste as satisfying in the mouth as the exquisite roast chickpea soup with garlic and oregano.

A bowl of revithia, or chickpeas soup, in the tiny Greek island of Serifos in the Cyclades, is one of the rewards of wanderlust. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Revithia sto fourno, a traditional Greek soup made with roasted
chickpeas, oregano, lemon, olive oil—and magic.
© Joyce McGreevy

If this were a movie, Hollywood would reinvent the locals as a Colorful Cast of Loveable Eccentrics. But quaint stereotypes don’t match the reality. People of Serifos travel the world, access 24-hour news, work at a range of professions. Among these thoughtful and serious-minded people, the only oddball I know of is myself.

A well-stocked shop in Serifos shows that even a tiny Greek island in the Cyclades, can satisfy any appetite, including wanderlust. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Think you can’t find gluten-free or other speciality foods in
the hilltop village of a tiny island? Guess again.
© Joyce McGreevy

McGreevy’s Odyssey

One night there’s true misadventure. Whatever gods I’ve inadvertently offended exact revenge on my laptop. Suddenly, I’m not so complacent. Up against deadline, I have two choices:

  • travel all the way back to Athens, hastily book a room, sort out the laptop, invest in a second one for backup (the cost of doing business while traveling full time), and meet that deadline with minutes to spare; or
  • curse my fate. As Homer’s Odyssey says, “These mortals are so quick to blame the gods.”

I opt for the journey.

“To Long for the Sight of Home”—Homer’s Odyssey

A ferry pulling into Serifos, a tiny Greek island in the Cyclades, symbolizes the tug-of-war between wanderlust and love of home. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Back in port.
© Joyce McGreevy

When I return to  the Cyclades, my sea legs are steady but my land legs not so much. Disembarking, I walk a few paces, then stumble. Immediately, arms reach out to lift me up. There are no strangers on Serifos, only neighbors.

Next morning, as I hang the laundry, the scent of wild rosemary and the thrum of hedgerow bees deliver a message to my senses—spring has landed! Soon it will be Kathari Deftera (“Clean Monday”), a day when children fly kites, bakeries offer unleavened lagana bread, and festivities mark the eve of Lent.

Lagana, a traditional bread found on many a tiny Greek island in the Cyclades, is tasty enough to inspire wanderlust. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Lagana bread: The name, which is also the origin of the
word lasagna, comes from a Greco-Roman pastry dough.
© Joyce McGreevy

Settling into work, I switch on the new laptop. The QWERTY keyboard includes a few Cyrillic letters. Since my software is set for American English, it makes no difference on a practical level, but on a heart level it means something that fills me with joy.

Then it hits me: wanderlust has led full circle. I feel at home on a tiny Greek island in the Cyclades. As Homer said, “Even a fool learns something once it hits him.” Dear Christos, I type, I’d like to stay on Serifos for another month.

A cat, Chora steps, and a weathered urn on Serifos, a tiny Greek island in the Cyclades, create the kind of tableau that inspires wanderlust. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Whether you’ve got nine lives or just one,
Serifos is a good place to be.
© Joyce McGreevy

Access superb online courses in Greek Mythology (University of Pennsylvania) here and
Ancient Greek History (Wesleyan University) here.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.

 
Comments:

3 thoughts on “Idyllic, Yet Never Idle

  1. I going to ask my doctor if Serifos would be right for me, and immediately prescribe it! 😊

    Thank you, Joyce, for taking us along on your Odyssey with your words and pics… both in living color! It’s like virtual reality sans cumbersome goggles!

  2. Swoon. Two months on a lightly inhabited Greek isle. And what great descriptions of your days and… CATS!
    It must be some level of heaven. It really makes me want to give it a try someday. Thank you, thank you, Joyce.

  3. Ms. McGreevy, you captured the feeling of your island experience and served it to us on an ancient silver platter! Shame on you for inciting my wanderlust once again. Yet another destination on my ever-growing bucket list.

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