Friday, August 27, 2004

Santorini Experiences

In Santorini, Sarita and I were able to get off the boat and spend a significant period of time in town before the crowds appeared from the ship and/or from local hotels.

We found our way to the shop of a man who made his own jewelry. What an amazing collection of pieces he has designed and made. It seems he spends almost a day on each one. And we spent close to an hour of time with him, hearing his stories, observing the beautiful craftsmanship and gorgeous stones he had chosen. . . . Of course, we could not leave his shop without purchasing something. . . . I don’t know how he can afford to stay in business when he may spend a day making a piece (such as the one we purchased) that he will sell for less than €80 ($100)! (And he has to cover his materials as well as his labor for that price!)

I got the impression he was a single man. He said the best day each year to be in Santorini is August 15 (we just missed it). Every place you go, he said, you will be offered food to eat for free—all the food you can eat. I forget the name of the holiday. He said he loves that day. You get great food everywhere you go.

By the time we left his shop, the streets were beginning to become crowded, so we made our way down to the bus station and took a bus to the south-eastern portion of the island. We thought we would visit ancient Thira (Fira). On the map, it looked like it was about a kilometer from Kamari Beach. So when the bus stopped in Kamari, we asked how to get to Arché Thira. The man gave a semi-vague finger-wag to send us in the right direction, and we took off.

We got to the beach and went as far as we could in the direction where Arché/Ancient Thira should have been. Nothing there.

So we started looking around.

There was a horrendously steep hill, with a road that switched-back numerous times as it climbed to the summit. “Is that the way to Ancient Thira?” we asked with trepidation.

We began walking in the direction of the road. And then we saw a sign: “Mini-Bus Tour to Ancient Thira.” –Yes, indeed, that was the way! “It’s five kilometers up the road,” said the man in the shop.

The sun was terribly hot, the climb inconceivable. So we paid the fee and waited for the mini-bus.

Sadly, when we got to the top, we found that all the “best stuff” was off-limits for viewing—all the inscriptions, all the stone carvings: they had roped them off so we couldn’t get close.

Not one of our better trips.

When we got back to Fira, we decided to do a little shopping on the main tourist strip.

Earlier in the day, we had stopped in a shop that had a bunch of icons. We stopped in again and took our time looking around and admiring what they had.

The shop featured both all-wood icons, and silver icons with small painted faces for some of the figures.

I was drawn to several icons that, I was told, were normally ignored by tourists: one of o hagioi pantes (“All the saints”), another of (I can’t remember the Greek, but) “St John and St ______ (John’s ammenuensis).” I guess you could say (this is the way I described them) they were icons that “told stories.” The icons that most tourists choose, said the shopkeeper, are “Madonna and Child” and “The Last Supper.” He was astonished that we showed any interest in these off-beat icons.

(As I've thought about it, since, it seems to me: if you’re going to own an icon, it should at least be iconic of something worth remembering, and, perhaps at least as important, something you're likely to forget (so the icon can serve a purpose by reminding you of that which you would otherwise forget)! Anyway . . . )

As I continued admiring the different icons, the shopkeeper talked more and more--about what made each icon special, about the characters in each icon, about what the Greek sayings were, etc. He appeared not to be a particularly devout man, but he knew the stories and the Scriptures.

Eventually he pulled out a beautiful “St. George Slaying the Dragon” icon. I know virtually nothing about St. George and the Dragon, but I wound up buying it anyway. Just because of its artistic merit. I also picked up the “all the saints” icon. And Sarita bought one that features about six key events in Jesus’ life.
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