Today my writing workshop will arrive to Thassos: seventeen participants and ten teachers/advisors. We will fill Archodissa with bustling activity, old friends reuniting and new friends meeting for the first time. The quiet mornings I have right now, where I sit alone on the patio typing while Dimitri sets up tables and Kyria Eva prepares the kitchen and Lara readies the rooms, will be a rarity in the next four weeks. I’m excited and nervous to meet the new group, and ready to once again have a parea.
Parea, in Greek, refers to a group of friends whom you regularly hang out with, share stories and drinks and life philosophies with. They are the “these are my people” people. Traveling alone to Greece taught me the importance of a parea—for starters, Greek food should not be eaten alone. The only way to fully enjoy a Greek meal is to share carafes of wine or tsipouro, plates of octopus and keftadakia and tzatziki and mussels, to have conversation that lasts for hours. But to be on Thassos without a constant wave of people I knew was a different experience, and it would have been a lonely one if not for a very special group of people I met this week.
This year I’ve had the good fortune to not only meet, but also to be adopted by, a German parea. There are nine total, six adults and three little girls. They, too, know that the best part of Greece, and this island, is right here in Aliki, with the Kouzis family. In fact, two of them have been coming here for fourteen years! Their knowledge of the island extends to places I’ve never been, small villages and mountain top tavernas, and when they invited me to join their hike last Sunday, I jumped at the chance. They are friendly, adventurous, and—as I learned after our hike—really, really funny. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had, speaking in a mix of German*, English, and Greek (mostly in English because I am the lowest common denominator) and most of all laughter, which speaks across all languages. Here are the highlights of my time with the Germans.
*I took German for 3.5 years in high school, so I can follow very simple sentences. But in terms of speaking, my Greek is better than my German, and their English is better than my Greek.
The Sunday Hike
First of all, after they learned that I have a blog and that I might blog about the hike, they wanted nicknames. The process of coming up with nicknames was more entertaining than the nicknames themselves, but this is how I will refer to them for the remainder, per request.
The Machine– our leader and trail expert, so named because he’s a hiking machine. He has been coming to Thassos for 14 years.
Aunt E– wife of The Machine and surrogate aunt for the group of adorable girls here, age one-and-a-half, three, and five. She, too, is learning Greek.
Rocks– this is his second time to Thassos, and he has an inordinate fondness of smashing stones in search of diamonds.
Paper– married to Rocks, so named because she wore a hat made of 100% paper. There will be photos.
Paper was apologetic about her English right from the start, and I thought she would be shy about speaking, but she ended up being most willing to translate everything into English for me. She said she wanted the practice. She reminds me of me, but the German-to-English version. What I love most about her is her sense of humor: we share a sense of situational humor, she is able to laugh at herself and make jokes, and her laughter is contagious.
It started with her hat. When we began the hike, it was in tact. It was a very lovely sun hat.
As the hike progressed, the hat started to break. It first began with a slight tear at the seam, where the brim met the cap. “Your hair is too strong,” her husband said.
The next time she took off her hat, half of the brim was detached. “Das ist schade,” one of us said. That’s a shame. She had the hat for a year, purchased in Greece, I believe. She put the hat on again, this time with the brim hanging down, like a tail. I think it was fashionable.
It was about this time that we tried to determine where the hat was made. Made in China? Taiwan? Greece? We found the tag. The only thing it said was “100% Paper.” It was one of those moments where we couldn’t stop laughing. It’s like saying, this hat was made to fall apart. What would have happened in the rain? I told her she could leave it on the trail and it would return to the earth without problem. And so we thought the hat was finished.
But there was a final stage; it began with a thread of some sort. Similar to going upstairs in a horror movie—one should never pull a thread. The entire brim fell off, and she was left with both a hat and a necklace. She took a very convincing photo as a Turkish leader.
The next great moment was finding a table and chairs in the middle of the woods. This is a very Greek thing to do, to have a proper meal in the middle of a hike. When we went hiking with Tassos of Thassos, he brought an entire spread of feta and tomatoes and cucumbers, anchovies, bread, cheese dip, and of course, tsipouro. But these table and chairs had seen better days.
“Shall we?” I asked.
AND WE DID. Paper brought out the ham and bread. Aunt E and Rocks took out their water canisters and cups. We didn’t eat, we just posed, but still. This belongs in a magazine advertising flannel or The Great Outdoors.
Whenever there was a tree with a hole in it, a surprisingly frequent occurrence, Paper humored my desire to take photos. Aunt E taught me that these trees only split open only after they’ve reached a hundred years old, and they continue to grow that way.
At one point, I heard a loud cracking sound and thought someone had fallen or was shot. It was just Rocks, breaking rocks. I wasn’t sure if everyone was serious or kidding when they said he was looking for diamonds, but evidently he found some promising rocks after smashing them open. One was particularly large, the size of two of my fists, and Paper held it up to her chest, saying, “My diamond necklace. This looks nice, no?”
Then Rocks, Paper, and I made a mini trek alongside a streambed to look at a waterfall that ended up being slightly more than a trickle. Rocks wanted to show me a picture in his phone from the previous year when he took a photo in front of the falls, to show me the difference in water level, but the only thing Paper and I noticed was that he was wearing the exact same shirt. We made him take a second selfie, the “before and after,” if you will. The three of us also took a selfie, because why not.
Our destination was a taverna in Kastro owned by a friend of The Machine, Kostas. It was such a cool spot tucked on top of mountain. Patio tables, a hammock, two levels of outdoor seating. Inside, there were more tables, and the walls were covered in memorabilia: maps of Greece and pictures of Kostas with friends, and notes from patrons, drawings, souvenir money from all over the world.
We ran into our other German friends, the couple who are parents to Aunt E’s surrogate nieces (and whom I don’t have nicknames for), and we pushed tables together to enjoy a 2.5 hour break from hiking. We toasted, we ate, we enjoyed each other’s company, and I did the only practical thing and fell asleep.
Aunt E went with the kids and their family back down via car, and Rocks, Paper, and the Machine and I traversed through the mountainside on a shortcut down. This is when I finally understood The Machine’s name. Much like my dad, who blazes the trail and leaves all of us in his dust, The Machine slid and hopped down the cataract of rocks like it was no big deal while I collected half the mountain in my shoes.
We made good time on our return. Rocks, enthusiastic about checking his pedometer (“Men must have tools with numbers,” Paper said), told us we hiked 16 kilometers. It was a good day.
And there have been many good days ever since. We’ve shared breakfasts and dinners, tsipouros, wine, and retsina. We taken more hikes. I grew very fond of the little ones; the five-year-old daughter even went up to her mom at the beach and said, “My name is Jenny, and I am from America.” It’s true that one of the best things about Archodissa is the people it attracts, the ones who keep coming back year after year, because their hearts beat for this place, too. Strangers become friends, languages are no barrier, and whether we see each other every day, or once every five years, together, we create a lifelong parea.
Danke viele, meine Freunde. Efharisto para poli. Thank you for everything.