Small Shores, Large Horizons
Finding Your Own Escape Equation: Gaining by Getting Away
My wife and I, both American born and raised, are about to mark almost a decade living on a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. We escaped from a life we knew to one we did not understand. From one with a seemingly sprawling geography to a smaller, more finite one.
In my many decades on planet earth, for me this is the longest I have ever lived in one place. It is also by far the smallest place, both in size and population, that I have ever lived. As you would imagine, life is different on an island.
It is an exile of sorts but a self-imposed one. So you learn to accept the things that surround you, both good and bad, because whether you expect them or not, they are yours by choice. In this way it is like much of life, whether or not we always recognize it.
The geography of our lives are smaller than they were in the big cities that we have inhabited. But the horizons are larger.
On an island, the distances are different. We are separated by great distances from friends, family and our former existence. Our lives are smaller and simpler, but also easier to navigate. And while there is less to explore on a small island, the connections are tighter, closer. You become a real and tangible part of the place you inhabit.
A simple walk to the store that is just some short steps over the white-rimmed paving stones from our house will often take an hour instead of the five-minutes it could take. Sometimes a serendipitous stroll will turn into an entire evening out. Not a long night, as we would say in English, but a big night, as they say in Greek. You don’t always expect this to happen but you learn to accept it. It is the way of island life.
Because on a small island you see the same faces, share the same stones and stories and you are, in the end, all in this life together.
By local custom and convention, you will stop and ask these people how they are, check that things are well with them. Even if you just saw them the previous day when you were making the same small pilgrimage. You will take time to hear the update. Perhaps you will be expected to stop for a coffee. Perhaps a frappe by the seaside will turn into some snacks and a small glass of wine to while away the time. Maybe more. Because there is not far to go, there is no hurry to get anywhere. There is Mediterranean time, there is Greek time, and there is Greek island time and somehow on a small Greek island, there is more time than other places.
More time, more sun, more sea, more sand. Maybe more everything.
And even on a small and simple island largely surrounded by familiar faces, there are somehow more stories. Because the small rituals of daily life are there for everyone and even more so when everyone shares the same sense of being castaway together, whether knowingly, willingly, or not.
We are both further from people and lives we have known and yet more inextricably tied to this place and the people and the lives that they and we have chosen.
There is of course the sublime beauty of the Aegean Sea and the bougainvillea draped white-washed houses. The barren rugged hills, demarcated here and there by small squared sections of squat stone fences. On a small island, everything has been carved up and claimed. But there are layers upon layers of narrative, stacked up upon all these stones that construct this simple life. There is the old Byzantine Road, the scars of the ancient marble quarries that went to decorate some of the most important edifices around the world. The sculptors you know that still chip away, making modern art of the remnants of this renowned marble. With different tools but similar passions.
There are the ruins of the old ancient temples whose stones are strewn on the local hilltops. The ornate old mansions of the Venetians and their lions who visited and overstayed their welcome by some four long sordid centuries but whose splendid architecture still stands out among the simple Cycladic white-washed sugar cube houses. The marble lions that still stand silent sentinel upon their steps.
And among all these old stones you add the echo of your own steps to those many that have gone before you.
And while you live on a smaller piece of the world, you feel closer to it. You get to know its rhythm. To become a part of it.
And on a small island, if you sit in the same place long enough, eventually everyone will pass you by, will share your shores.
In the summer there will be the many tourists from faraway places that share your simple geography and then the season of travel and tourism will end and the island will quiet down and be left to the locals. And the island’s rhythm will become your rhythm.
You will realize that for these times you share your own stories and add them to the old stones of this storied place. And with each sunset or season, the longer you stay, the better you understand your own story, the deeper you get into your own geography.
And you will hope that rather than having escaped other people, other places, other lives, that you have learned to embrace with open-arms the life you are leading. That you learn to inhabit.
Scott Stavrou is the author of Losing Venice, a novel. Available in paperback and ebook online and in select bookshops.