Cats, Sick Bags and Paradise: Syros Notebook

Ermoupoli, Syros, Greece — During a ride from Athens Airport to Mati, near Marathon, on Friday, I passed by several smallish packs of what appeared to be wild dogs. They were roaming aimlessly and lazily, on small patches of land, ignored plots of overgrown grass and dry brush that apparently double as informal garbage dumps, between the four lane highway constructed just before the 2004 Olympics and local two lane roads. On Monday afternoon in Ermoupoli I got the impression that stray cats outnumber the population of the Cyclades Islands capital of 13,000 by at least two to one.

They’re everywhere and they’re viciously loud; they wail violently, as if they’re fighting off the evils unleashed from Pandora’s Box. The strong swirling winds accentuate it. At first, I though the painful yelps echoing through the narrow streets were coming from the mouth of a desperately ill child. Less than 15 minutes after I checked into my hotel, at least a dozen, in groups of four, were taking turns aggressively scratching at my balcony door. Why? According to an informal survey of five bartenders, the people of Syros are cat people.  They simply hate dogs. That clearly shows in the long faces of a few dogs I’ve seen.

The celebration continues

The world is still rejoicing. There was an entertainment awards ceremony on one of the Greek networks last night, with little satirical and musical skits interspersed between the presentations. One singer/comic followed up his John Belushi/Blues Brothers thing with an Abba musical ditty, singing, Obama Mia. Like the Michael Stipe lyric that tops the list of things I wish I had written —I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music— I really wish I could have come up with that.

I’m still amazed at how last Tuesday’s election result has managed to reach and impact even relatively remote corners of the world like this one. Yesterday three people on the morning ferry were wearing Obama t-shirts. Everywhere I stopped and hung out for a bit yesterday afternoon and evening, people were asking me about Obama. Several bookstores had a Greek translation of Audacity of Hope figuring prominently in their window displays.

Getting (t)here

In the off-season, the only mainland departures are from Piraeus. This morning’s 07:35 BlueStar Super Ferry II (one way, about four and-a-half hours) was a fairly bumpy cruise part of the way, rough enough to make two women who flanked me on both sides, some three meters away, spend about 30 minutes with their faces buried in sick bags. I hope it wasn’t me. I’ve offended people in the past, but not to that extent.

There were more passengers than I expected, although I really had no reasonable idea whatsoever of what to expect. Some read, some chatted, but most dozed. I did as well for about an hour before a scratchy ringtone of a nearby co-day sleeper roused me with an Elvis song that’s been following me around since: ‘Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help…”

Greece remains one of the few last great refuges in Europe for smokers. The second class level was split down the middle to accommodate smokers and non; the smokers, at least this morning, outnumbered the others. One thing can be said about Greeks: they’re apparently not quitters.

26 EUR/one way. Warning: don’t necessarily believe the generic timetables in booking websites. Departure times can vary wildly, particularly in the off-season.

Paradise

My hotel is called Paradise. Always be wary of hotels whose impression of self is characterized in such glorious terms.

World Music Café

I ducked into about half a dozen cafes and pubs yesterday and this was the only one I returned to. The musical vibe, primarily north and west African along with a peppering of catchy Euro/Arab/African fusion, fits the Mediterranean. At least to me. It’s like my home stereo, but with an immeasurably better sound system. Comfortable, laid back and a very friendly staff. Highly recommended. Tell Nadil that Slovenia sent you. Just a few blocks south of the city hall square.

NOTE: I intended to post this last night, but was sidetracked by a birthday party at this café. Happy birthday Topis!

More pics here.

Syros 012, originally uploaded by pirano.

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