All day it had rained, interrupting a hesitant summer that was late already. I pulled out a sheet of rolling paper, picked a tuft of Golden Virginia tobacco with my thumb and finger tops, and rolled a thin tsigaro. I struck the match against the box and lighted the cigarette with its flame. I inhaled a breath of relief, squeezed my left eye and looked around. The house of the community was filled to the last seat. New seats were passed along over the heads of people waiting for their drinks, cocktails in white plastic cups or cans of Mythos, at the bar, three tables covered with a white bed sheet. A half crescent of chairs was lined up on stage with microphone standards at waist length. Three socialist red curtains hung from the ceiling against the back wall, the stage lightened by six colored light bulbs, green, red, yellow, blue, yellow, red, hanging from a thick black electric cord. The pie baker walked to and fro, occupied and nervous, with a wasteful haste. The petrol man sat quietly at the far end table of the bar with the bottles of tequila and Red Label Johnny Walker. He greeted every familiar face with a broad Ikarian smile and dark frowned eyebrows. I recognized the doctor with his long pony tail, his droopy eyes, who studied the high number of cancer occurrence on the island. The room filled with smoke, leaving a hazy air of ashy smell and the tones of a lost era of open markets, crowded streets, tiny waterfront tavernas, passenger ships and refugees disembarking. The melancholic ruffling of the bouzouki, the bass of a classic guitar, the tearing of the violin and the soothing of the accordion, dancing away on the clouds of drifting mist in the early morning.
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Landscape 2: Hush
There were no children squealing like piglets while being dragged to the slaughterhouse. There was no pop from a tennis ball slammed by a wooden bat, no short tired laughter. There was no shrill of horny teens being chased into the water. A few hundred meters squatted in the sand, two men sat like desert nomads, motionlessly conversing, in the sand. Further, a girl bend over her boyfriend on hands and knees, her lips kissing his hairy chest. On my other side, a group of chubby boys and girls wobbled like drunken cherubs into the water, attracted to each other by the sheer gravity of their fat wrapped constellations, an obese figure in bikini figured heavily at the water line, like the sun around which these planets of kids circled. But the strange thing was, I heard not a single sound. Higher up the rock, a topless man, hammering the planks for his terrace roof, not a single beat of sound. Even the sea, rolled its waves ashore tacitly. A single cloud hovered still above. A conspiracy to not disturb me.
Landscape 1: Puppy Love
I gulped down the last bottom of my glass of strong black wine, the local Homeric variation of home brewed wine on the island, and payed the bill, three Euro. I imagined to put down three silver drachma pieces. Would it not be better to still pay in ancient coinage? It is a wishful make-believe that everyone shared. It was night, the constellations guided my way home. The sky, the air, the tree and the road, everything was covered in pitch darkness. But in heaven the stars shone brighter than I ever saw before. I searched for Big Dipper and recognized its handle, the straight cup shape in the sky. The black blanket of night was pierced with flickering holes, a full view of curious eyes that spy on us. I walked up the hill, crossed the bend in the road and passed the trash bins. My eye fell on a carton box and the speckled white puppy head peeking over the edge.
The Steep Path to the Fortress
Out of the fog that danced in the mountain air with the gaiety of solitude, I saw arise the small chapel of Agios Dimitrios Stavri. Although nothing but a small chapel of simple solid stone coarsely hewed from the mountain rock, it stood on the top of the road on a pedestal of climbing rock with such might and awe, that it grounded the faith of man with unshakable firmness. I stood still and admired this mystical appearance out of the clouds. Agios Dimitrios and Agios Georgios, patron saints of the Crucades, were widely venerated on the island, which was for the longest time, occupied by the Ottomans. This island was the frontier, it was deserted, it was barren, it was impenetrable, it was vulnerable. I was on my way to the castle of Kastro tou Kosikias and the chapel of Agios Georgios tou Drogana..
I looked around me, peeked in the distance, and saw the mountainous landscape of Ikaria flow before me. I took the unpaved road that lead away from the asphalt of modern life and the populated coast and followed a stony dirt path deeper into the protective womb of the island.
The vapor in the air had risen from the immaculate Aegean sea below to the mountain tops hundreds of meters above the coast line, and enclosed me from the inhabitable lower parts of the island, while the clouds were driven further up the steep sides by a strong northern wind. Hidden by the waves of hard stone and a potent maquis green of shurbs and trees, here and there, I encountered flocks of wild goats tacidly grazing the gray pastures, fleeing my intrusion.
I walked up the dirt road that meandered into the mountains. At a less steep part of the hill, I left the road and crossed through the shrubs. Everywhere I stepped, my feet landed on dried goat droppings that covered the landscape. Maybe as short ago as twenty years, the landscape was covered by a dense forest that in long past centuries had protected the Ikarians against pirate invasions as well as the Ottoman census. But the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy that provided subsidies to subsistence farmers on the island per goat has catalyzed a boom of the goat population that had destroyed the century old habitat.
I turned a bend in the road, and there towering high above the surrounding plain and mountains, I saw in the distant height, the castle of Koskina. Nothing more than the dilapidated walls of a ruin, once a Byzantine fortress, now only the restored chapel of Agios Georgios was clearly visible, while the castle walls around it had dissolved into the rock from which it once rose. I hoped to find here at least a clue, but maybe even parts of the treasure. The fortress was the most obvious place to seek, because it was a fortress, and thus it must have been build to protect something or someone. For this reason, I decided first to set out for the castle.
At the foot of the mountain, I looked up at the impressive climb. At the side of the road, hidden between shrubs and stones, the remains of a small round building, a guarding tower perhaps, or a shelter against the sun for a shepherd or a farmer tending to his vineyard here on the small stretch of plain cultivable land.