When I told my parents I was flying to Santorini to spend my mid-year university break working in a bar, my father ran to the computer and consulted Wikipedia. He ran back out into the kitchen, five minutes later, and announced, ‘Livvy, did you know that Santorini has a volcano. And it’s live.’ We then went down the path of how likely an eruption would be, how dangerous/foolish it was to live near a live volcano, did I know what I was doing (not really). No one fear mongers like my parents. Lest we forget my father’s response to my desire to ride an elephant … ‘Livvy, that’s a stupid thing to do. It will reach up with its trunk, pull you off its back and eat you.’ This is the same man who forbade my mother, when they were dating, from patting the MGM lion. The MGM lion, in the autumn of its career, was chained, tranquilised and about eighty-five years old. Dad still maintains it could have easily, and most probably would have, bitten Mum’s hand off, or pinned her to the ground in a surprise attack and he would have never forgiven himself. Romantic. Sort of. In a buzz killing kind of way.
But I digress.
Volcanoes, I believe, send people mad. There is some bizarre energy, some odd rhythm it emits that, slowly, sucks one, bending them to its will. Its mad will. As I write this, I feel mad. Like a bag lady with a trolley, a small dog and a rich fantasy life. The volcano has won.
It is fact (one repeatedly observed) that after a while, on this island, people start to go a little loopy. Perhaps they were that way to begin with. Perhaps that was what drew them to the island. I don’t know. All I know is that something about Santorini can send one quite mad. Yesterday a good friend arrived. He had driven from Poland and, his girlfriend noted, the closer he got to the island, the madder he became. By the time we were sitting on the roof of his cave house with a glass of wine, he was well and truly hysterical. To be fair, he’s energetic at the best of times. Santorini just eggs him on.
My theory is that he, like the rest of us, has placed his sanity in the hands of Gaia, and to be perfectly honest (and mad) I think she has a little fun with our collective mental faculties.
I suspect this because, not only does she have the volcano, but she also has the winds. Every summer the Meltemis blow in from the north, whipping the island and its inhabitants into a frenzy. There is something unsettling about winds, something restless and anticipatory. I rather exist in a permanent state of restlessness; I don’t need the winds to help me out. All they do is send me even further into the clouds, where I languish, buffeted about, for as long as they want to blow.
This morning, I woke up, feeling somewhat manic. I went for a calming swim and a frappe, but just became increasingly frazzled. Upon returning to our room, I confessed to the edge of hysteria that had crept into my cognition, to Tammy, who was preparing for work. She said, ‘Liv, I just spent ten minutes staring at my toiletry case trying to figure out what I can take to make me feel better. Paracetamol? A sleeping tablet?’ I paced the room for a little while, shoving spanikopita into my mouth with jittery hands. Tam continued staring into the mirror. ‘I don’t know whether I want to laugh or cry or scream. Or sleep. I think I could sleep for years.’
It’s too early to be driven mad by the volcano – that starts to happen after the first month or so. We’ve only been here a week. It’s not a full moon (another of Gaia’s favourite lunacy inducing tools). So this current bout of loopiness must be the winds. Those dry, frenzied gusts that send dust spirals swirling down the main road, the umbrellas tumbling on the beach. The island inhabitants into a spin. They’ve got us in their windy little paws and there’s nothing we can do except hold on and ride them out. Paracetamol won’t help us now.
If they keep it up, I will consider an appeasing sacrifice.
I know where to find some goats.