“We inform our passengers that in a few minutes we will be arriving at the Port of Paros. Passengers with final destination Paros should get ready for disembarkation.’’ The announcement is made by a voice with such a heavy Greek accent that is almost impossible to decipher.
Paroikia’s port looks like it’s melting under the midday sun. Dozens of rooms to rent signs are flashing under the blinding light: Oasis Camping, Maritsa’s Rooms, Sea View Hotel. Among the signs there is one reading “Boats to Antiparos.” For almost 20 years now I have been riding this little boat over waves twice its size to Antiparos and back. Every time it feels like the first.
I visited Antiparos as a teenager, attending a mobile indie party night organized by some friends from Athens. The name itself sounded exotic to my ears, and back then I couldn’t have pointed out the island on a map if you had asked me to. I rented a small room overlooking the port above a taverna. The smell of frying squid hung in the air, a golden pack of Benson & Hedges stood out on a blue painted metal table and white sheets were hanging to dry under the sun.
Back then the people arriving every summer at the shores of Antiparos were an interesting blend of punks, goths, nudism fanatics and hippies. Every night, intellectual descendants of Kerouac getting high on absinth mixed with young indie kids in Adidas Gazelles, drinking cheap cider and eating souvlaki in the narrow white-painted alleys.
Around midday when the beaches were swarming with hundreds of tourists, the island’s main square remained serene and quiet. The only noise interrupting the vast silence was the rattling sound of dice hitting hard on a wooden backgammon table, and the repetitive mumbling of cicadas. Back then, the only place to have a drink was the local kafeneio and an oddly named bar called Marabou, where you would always find the island’s pharmacist sporting a distinctive huge scar on his head, holding a glass of scotch with a lot of ice melting in it. At nighttime the crowd would change to seriously balding 40-year-olds wearing ‘Motorhead’ t-shirts, mohawk-adorned teens occupying the church’s sidesteps, and Norwegian tourists looking like lobsters from spending too much time in the sun.
Antiparos’s main attractions in those days were the camping grounds and the local disco La Luna, where almost all of the island’s weird summer inhabitants would end up dancing half-naked over shattered beer bottles, under the dim light of a million stars. The playlist was almost identical every year: about 10 Bob Marley songs; The Cure (especially ‘Friday I’m in Love’); ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’; Prodigy; Men At Work; 10cc’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’; and Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares’ marking the end of each night. Behind the bar sat some dusty bottles of Johnnie Walker (probably there since 1977), some half empty bottles of ouzo and a huge Bob Marley poster. The toilets stunk of ammonia. Any attempt to flirt in the bar was usually overwhelmed by the horrendous smell of piss. The walk back home was probably one of the most majestic experiences. A wasteland of empty fields, cars rotting from the salty air, the shadow of an oak tree, laughter under the moonlight, the milky way, a pair of women’s underwear on a fence. The distant lights from the village coming closer with every step.
Myself and around 10 more people used to rent some sparsely furnished rooms owned by a lady called Maria. They had a small balcony overlooking the northern beach of Sifnaiko. In the afternoons I would read under the shade of a white umbrella, the waves crashing on the rocks. In the meadow by the main street some skinny goats would feed lazily on watermelon skins from a bucket. After the sun dived in the sea we would all just sit there listening to Omar’s ‘There Is Nothing Like This’ from a cassette player and peep on the couple in the room just across the meadow. Antiparos was a an island made of dreams. Our island.
A strong highlight of those early years was the day that almost 15 people jumped on the back of an old pickup Datsun truck handled by a 16-year-old local, to drive to San Giorgio, the island’s most remote settlement. The far end village of Antiparos, sitting next to the deserted island called Despotiko. An island with ancient cemeteries and antiquities of Cycladic civilization comparable to those of Delos. Greek Mexico. Haystacks. A remote house surrounded by giant cacti and agave plants – called ‘immortals’ in these parts of the world. The friendly owners used to serve us rabbit in red sauce and french fries. Next to it the old tavern of Captain Pipinos. The best sea urchin salad in the world. Fingers with bitten nails separating the white flesh of a sea bream from the bones.
Sometimes I wonder if we really experienced all this. A bunch of black and white photos. Names attached to faces I don’t remember anymore. A goth French girl and Britain-raised playboys. The memories have started bleeding into each other liked mixed colors in the washing machine. Which year; what; when – it makes no sense anymore. I can’t even remember what the food tasted like. Or maybe I did not care much back then. A bed’s rusty joints creaking under the weight of lovemaking. The sound of water flushing like a muted trumpet from the room next door. But most prominently: the sound of the refrigerator. The sound of my summers forever. Its mechanical buzzing competing with Brian Eno’s ‘A Stream Of Bright Fish’.
Sometimes I really wonder if, nowadays, visitors can sense our presence there.
Sometimes I really wonder if, nowadays, visitors can sense our presence there. Our ghosts sitting at the same table on the main square. Our distant voices in the warm afternoons. Antiparos is not the same anymore. Life goes on, things change. But what I loved most about it in the first place is still there. The place might not be a replica of the past but the essence is still there. The butcher shop by the cemetery. Chained dogs barking angrily in the wasteland behind the main village. The ceiling fan in our room. A fanfare of colors during sunset in Sifnaiko. The smoky flavor of grilled sardines at Perigiali. Athina’s naked breasts at “treasure island” – our secret beach. Driving on dirt roads. Pasta with local sausage under the vine. This is a documentation of the present.