Santorini. It’s a magic word. Greek Islands. There are two more. They make one all but quiver with a delight peculiar to the notion of endless sunshine, vast blue skies, clear, salty water and caraffes of white wine. And you would be right to wriggle with this delight, right to gaze into the distance and imagine mango daquiris on the beach for lunch and a big dish of moussaka for dinner. To hear the bazouki strumming, to picture yourself sashaying down to the beach for your morning swim, clad in white linen, salty mane blowing out behind you, yelling out ‘kalimera’ to all and sundry. Because that’s life on Santorini. It’s a holidaymaker’s dream. You can go months without seeing a cloud hover over this little Cycladean outpost. A week on the island and you leave, lulled and soothed by its gentle, easy rhythm.
But. There’s something you need to know about Santorini. And I say this as someone who loves this place with all of her heart, as someone who has now set foot on its dry, arid soil, four times. Once as a holidaymaker, three times as the lady who serves you your mango daquiris with a smile, then runs back to her little room above a shop on the noisy, dusty main road, and writes about it.
What you need to know is that, on this island, things don’t always go to plan. In fact, things never go to plan. So it’s best you don’t make one. No one else does. And things don’t work more often than they do. In fact, you come to celebrate small everyday things going off without a hitch (like, for example,withdrawing money). Things get started and never finished. Greeks are passionate people, full of ideas they’re more than willing to share with you over a frappe and 100 cigarettes … but they’re absolutely dreadful at the execution. It’s a miracle anything actually exists on Santorini, given the sheer amount of building shells dotted about the island.
And that’s another thing. Here on this island, there are obviously many, large pockets of beauty so intense, so extraordinary, you can take thirty photos of the exact same thing and never be able to adequately tell yourself, or understand, how beautiful it really is. The cliff-gripping white houses of Fira and Oia, the twisting, glossy stoned paths, the vivid water, clear and so, so blue. The volcano, the red beach, carved out of a ruby cliff. The little fishing villages, the charming, crescent moon of Amoudi Bay.
But there are also moments of ugliness, created almost solely by the human hand (what isn’t?) There is dirt and dust and decrepit houses, old bikes, stray dogs, acres of arid nothingness. Rubbish and ruin, side by side, in plain sight. What are you going to do about it? Have a frappe.
There’s something honest about the way Santorini’s famed beauty and this ugliness co-exist. And it could be, that this openness, this collective ‘ah, what can you do’ shrug, is what lies at the core of the island’s charm. Because it isn’t just its soaring views and vital colours that make me keep coming back here. And the constantly empty ATMs, temperamental water supply, misleading or outdated menus and the constant surprises reaped from the if-you’re-lucky attitude towards stocking grocery shelves aren’t exactly why either.
I think, somewhere between the beauty, the rubbish and the infamous live-and-let-live-shrugging attitude, lies the reason – and I haven’t quite named this reason, but I can feel it – for the island and my relationship. And by this point, it is a relationship; layers of vivid, warm memories; soaring highs and dizzying lows – it has all happened here, the good, the bad, the very bad; furious arguments and equally as furious love-ins. Continued honesty between myself and this place and, despite it all, despite the very bad, despite the frustration, trust. Trust that no matter how I arrive, or how I leave, at some point, the island would have fixed me again. Lulled and soothed me in its own, strange, live-and-let-live way.