"Come with me to Patmos," he urged me. "I've bought a house on the island and you'll be the first to see it. Spend August with me."
I snuggled close to him and closed my eyes. I knew he was dangerous but I wanted to be with him. I didn't care about the consequences. Carpe diem. Who cared about the future?
I had been going to Greece for years, but after I met him it was never the same.
We traveled on the decrepit Mimika, the ferryboat that linked Athens to several islands. Its old engines grumbled as the boat rolled and rattled, negotiating the Aegean waves, carrying its cargo of people, trucks, cars, motorbikes, goats and food, but we weren't aware of anything around us. The cheapest of tickets had granted us the deck and the best seats in the house.
The scorching sun eventually gave way to darkness, and the stars and the moon took center stage. Tall, blond and tanned, he had steely eyes that melted when I was in his arms; a man capable of the harshest remarks but also the gentlest gestures, he held me tight.
We picnicked at sunset, one with the rolling of the boat. We spread our beach towels to lie down under the immense Greek sky, the Milky Way shimmering high above us, Venus scintillating in the night. Finally, at 1 a.m., the lights of Patmos appeared in the distance. The Mimika moored at Skala and vomited us out of its belly together with the backpacking hordes of Germans and Dutch. Dragging our suitcases we made our way, pushing and shoving, through the fumes of the obnoxious motorbikes rearing their engines, ready to escape into the cool night and Patmos' winding roads.
Adonis waited for us on his kaikki, the local boat. The mythological name didn't quite fit the man, even though he was surrounded by the legendary aura of having had sex with a famous young actress. Short-legged and barely 5'4'', his neck disappeared into broad, strong shoulders and his huge belly was counterbalanced by a humpback. His smile and kindness conquered me at once. "Ben arrivati!" he greeted us in Italian. My language was still spoken by the older Dodecanese people after the ill-fated Italian domination.
Swiftly he got hold of our things and hauled them into his boat, already filled with bottles of water, bags of rice, cans of beans, tuna fish and tomatoes. Potatoes, onions, flour and all that a house would need was tidily stacked under deck. We took off and circumnavigated the island until, suddenly, a beautiful bay opened in front of us. It stretched deep inland, flanked by high cliffs and at its end, partially hidden by the tamarisk trees, lay three solitary small cubes, stark white under the full moon. We were home.
There was no electricity and no running water. No roads to travel on. Isolated from modern comforts, I suddenly realized that I had just accepted to spend a month as Robinson Crusoe.
No wonder we were unloading groceries at about 3 a.m. after a long day of traveling. "Romantico! Romantico!" Adonis waved at us, speeding away from our rudimentary dock. I waved back, standing in the middle of cases of beer, boxes of pasta and all kinds of provisions. Would I be able to rise to the occasion?
There were three wells scattered in the back garden, simple holes opened in the ground, covered with just one wooden board that crossed them diagonally. On an island plagued by summer drought we were lucky to have such an abundance of water, even if it meant hours of labor to fill the pails, lift them up, climb a ladder and finally empty them into the big, metal reservoir.
The sink, necessary for all food preparation and dishwashing, was a slab set inside a stone wall; barely seven feet of pebbles separated it from the water. I worked from there, my eyes lost in the beauty of the bay, pale or dark indigo according to the situation of the meltemi, the strong wind that corrugated the waves and sent sprays of sea foam over the house walls, the chairs and the hammocks.
I learned to use petrol lamps, changing the wick every morning and cleaning them to get them ready for dusk. Maria, the neighbor, was my mentor and not once did she show her surprise at this young foreigner who wasn't acquainted with the most basic elements of island life. She taught me how to pry open the sea urchins, freshly fished in front of the house. I had to use scissors and shouldn't react with horror at the sight of their prickles convulsing in the last moments of their primordial life. First as a young child in Tuscany, now as a young adult I once again faced skinning octopuses and scaling the fish we caught everyday in our nets.
From the only hardware store on the island I got myself a rudimentary camping oven, which consisted of a round tray covered by a metal dome and two small vents that closed or opened to adjust the temperature. Surprising what an imaginative cook can produce with just two gas burners...
Surrounded as we were by nature's bounty, within days I instinctively knew what to do with my new, uncomplicated life.
I went native.