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My name is Nancy Zimmerman and this is my blog.  I write mostly about art, travel and the bits about life that make me smile, think or piss me off.  

Enjoy!

CHALKiDIKI: AN UNASSUMING PARADISE

nancy zimmerman

Monday, August 17

Stopped in Sorrento and checked out the "Walk of the Gods."  I was looking forward to a hike along this magnificent coast, but the sheer height of it scares me, and though I was willing, the Gods spared me by raining out the path so I had to settle for a few vertigo inspiring, death defying leans over edges before heading back to Rome and on to Chalkidiki.

The taxi charged me 50 euro for another 3 block ride.  It is now my custom, once I am safely to the curb and have paid the fee, to narrow my eyes, shake my fist at the driver and yell "DIABLO!"   It seems to put my world back in order.

Had a luscious twilight swim alone in the pool.  I fancy myself a mermaid and frolic and float until the sky fills with stars and mosquitos.  Little birds are twittering sweetly as they settle within the surrounding pines for the night.

I have dinner of pasta, toast my beer to myself and snuggle into bed awaiting my 5am wake up call.

I'm on the plane to Thessaloniki.  The flight is only an hour and it's the crack of dawn, so I have decided not to take my magic pill.   I buckle in and try to read a magazine. I open to an ad that asks, "Do you feel lucky?"  I close said magazine and try to read my book, which weighs a ton and I have an urgent need to unload it.  My eyes are burning from lack of sleep as I had to go over and over my plane crash rescue scenarios.  I make a mental note to pay attention to the gas mask instruction this time.  

The stewardess is  wearing a lanyard that says "It's a trap…don't go!" I can't take my eyes off it and sensing her instruction suspect, I once again fail gas mask.  I tighten my seatbelt at 1000 feet,  do some silent weeping and accept it's too to late to turn back.  I am a brave little soldier and find some peace, then like a self destructive psycho, I look out the window.  I scold myself and repeat the scenario 100 times more til I scare myself into altered state of reality.

I am now at the coolest little place in Chalkadiki.  It's not a hotel, rather a sort of paradise compound.  A old stone house plays the role of an office. A welcoming rustic dinner hall and a host of tiny ancient cottages  appear along paths shaded by all manner of fragrent fruit trees. 

It's only 9am and my room will not be ready until 2.  A beautiful outdoor lounge surrounded by flowering vines and gauzy linen curtains beckons me and convinces me not to cry.  I curl up in a fat comfy couch and savour the dappled morning sunlight dancing around me.  I am so exhausted, but appreciate the Gods not letting me lose the day in the darkened bedroom I craved.  I close my eyes and listen to the voices of birds and children I have never heard before.  The smell of lavender and lily send me into a dreamlessly luscious sleep.

A very loud bird urgently beckons me back to reality. An elderly white dog, inspired by my nap is parked at my feet.  It's 2:00 and my bungalo is ready.  I look for the bird as I pass the pool.  There are not many people here, but they nod welcomes or raise fancy drinks from their tempting loungers.  The pool is grand and inviting and my white patchwork flesh is aching to be immersed.

My Greek born friend Sofi told me about Chalkadiki and I am in her debt for the recommendation. I doubt I can do my place justice with words but of course I am about to babble an attempt! 

I enter through a rustic forget-me-not blue door.  Inside, warm stone walls surround a story book Christmas sort of fireplace, a hard to resist plump white sofa and other homey well worn furniture.  The warm Grecian sun pours in through large patio doors.

I climb a spindly staircase which leads to an open loft with a massive white bed, grandmothers dresser and a delicately ornate vanity which gently notes my reflection and suggests I brush my hair some day.  I lay on the bed for a bit, thank God for Sofi and relish in the idea of 5 days of stillness.

Much as I adore the inside of my temporary home, the outside is equally charming.  A little table with two mismatched Alice in Wonderland chairs sit in unspoken conversation on the stone porch overlooking my back yard oasis.  Swallows and chickadees dart from pomegranate and fig trees which surround a sunny patch which cradles my own little pool. Old wooden loungers are covered in fresh white pillows and the roughly maintained grounds add to the rustic feel of the place.  It somehow reminds me of my mothers property and conjures visions of childhood tea parties and long summer days well spent.

I settle in, set up my paints, introduce my tired body to the pool and spend the rest of the evening on the porch drinking wine, talking to you and the stars that twinkle above and planning nothing at all.

Tuesday, August 18

The bird has returned and seems to fancy himself a rooster.  It's only 7am but this beautiful sun is impossible to resist.  I am not sure where breakfast is served but am not surprised to see little cafe tables and chairs with bright white linens dotting the grass outside the dining hall.  There are  several families here with little flocks of sun kissed children so full of energy and life it makes me smile. A fat little baby smiles back.  We know we have it good here.

The buffet is casual and hearty as one set out for hard working farmers heading to the fields. There are soft warm breads, cheese of all kinds, fruits from the trees and a generous bowl of hardboiled brown eggs.  A little girl smiles as I slide one in my pocket so I give her a mischevious wink.  I find a table under a grand old tree whose branches sway a breeze in harmony with the voice of an Italian Sinatra crooning softly from the main house. An elderly white dog saunders over, samples bits of my breakfast and sits against my leg looking up curious and contently.  I'm not sure if he speaks English but he endears me and  I enjoy his silent company.

My room was so hot last night it was hard to sleep again, but I am spending the day in the pool so I expect to exhaust myself. 

I am exhausted from leisure.  I swam back and forth for miles.  The sun is so hot, I did exactly the same thing I once did in Spain which I vowed I would never do.  I have fried myself to a bright red and I am feeling faint, frail and a bit drunk.  I move like a zombie so my limbs don't touch my body.  I return to my room and having not learned my lesson, reason my only hope of relief is to swim naked in my pool.

The water is perfect and soothing. I float for an hour like a giant white starfish.  I didn't notice the groundskeeper raking on the other side of the brush and he didn't seem too shocked or concerned with the mound of Canadian flesh bobbing in the water so we silently agreed to just carry on.

I did, however notice movement in my bungalow and the rustling sounds of a housekeeper.  I decide to pretend I didn't and blissfully float along until I hear the patio doors shut and lock.

I bolt upright and stare in shocked disbelief as I realize my plight.  I yell out in my best Greek "Me sychoreite kyria!"  Excuse me madame! No kyria. No.

Yes.  Of course I am now locked out without clothes.  These sorts of moments seem to be standard fare in most of my days, so who am I kidding to be surprised?  I will be amused later, but in this particular moment I am not as I don't even have a towel.  

 I should note, the alter ego of the trickster spirit that sets up these events sometimes has the courtesy of leaving me a speck of dignity while I figure out the game.  I immediately scan the yard and spot the bright orange, yet transparent shawl I bought in Positano which I left on a lounger last night.   I climb out, snatch the cloth, wrap it around the most offensive bits of me and hope I can catch the housekeeper before she heads out the front door.  

I do not catch her, but I do meet the eyes of the two couples and their children who are having dinner on their front yard next to mine.  The same yard I had to cut through because mine has no exit.  Down the path I see the housekeepers chubby ass moving in harmony with her clattery cart.  I have no choice but to make chase.  I lose her in a damn adorable grove of trees and realize I may have to go to the office which will involve crossing the well populated pool area.

 Now dry, I stand there for a bit appreciating how much silk feels like sandpaper on molten flesh and want to just drop the thing and march across the compound naked and unapologetically.   I consider the children and opt to just stand there, when as if cued by angels, a familiar staff rounds the corner heading my way.  I wave her over, explain my plight and she laughs so insanely loud anyone who has not noticed me has come out to see what the hell is so funny.  I am sure they are not disappointed, surrender and park my bare ass on the stone stairs and wait for her return with a new key.

I finally retreat inside, glue my often shattered ego back into place and appreciate what a great story this might make some day.  I put on my clothes, step outside, introduce myself to the neighbours as if they had met my crazy room mate instead and head down for dinner.

The food here is vibrant and light. I relish a meal of eggplant, feta and fresh tomatoes with basil.  No wonder Greeks are so beautiful.  They laugh loudly, eat well and seem to love the most important things simple living has to offer.  

I hang around, drink more wine and watch darkness transform the grounds into a twinkling warm setting where a fairy tale wedding may have just wound down and me and the dog are the last guests to leave.

I count my blessing, wonder what possessed me to come this far across the globe, and thank the stars I did.

Nite.

Wednesday, August 19.

I woke up with a bit of a sniffle today which by noon evolved into a full blown sickness.  I wanted to go exploring and painting today, but it seems the fates have other plans for me so I've been sitting here shivering with fever in the lounge for the last couple of hours trying to finish this damn book.  I have never been simultaneously baked on the outside and from within and  am in no mood to appreciate the nonsense of it all, so I am trying to make the best of it.  There is a good chance it could have been avoided with a few wiser choices.  I repeat my promise that much as I love the water and sun, there is such a thing as much to much of both. I shall remind myself of my crispy days of Spain and being rendered immobile in Chalkadiki, buy a hat and some damn sunscreen and never let this happen again.

I spent most of the day in bed feeling sorry for myself and then went down to eat some yogurt and peaches.  It was so cold and delicious I wanted to smear it all over myself hoping it would do for my body what it was doing for my senses.  

A pomegranate dropped on my head again. I have no idea what all this fruit has against me. The white dog is still following me around.  His name is Bobo and he is not remotely affected by my mood or circumstance.  I appreciate that and we wander around taking photos which seems to be the only thing I am capable of today.

I am grouchy so I decide to go to the office and point out how the internet description boasts air conditioning and how it's not very nice I am left to swelter when I am clearly old and now invalid. The girl at the desk is too happy to abuse and I decide to be gentle and ask if there is a fan I can take to my room.  "The air conditioner is not working?" 

I ponder what she is suggesting for a moment.  This is my third day in the sauna and I have somehow overlooked an air conditioner?  Impossible.   I ask if there is an air conditioner and she smiles brightly "Nai!"  I am fevered and dizzy but I am sure she just said both yes and no.  I repeat the question, she easily reads the confusion in my face and answers "Nia! Yes of course!"  This mad woman is saying No, Yes of course!

I have a lot of these who's on first moments and I always resort to just standing there in silence because I can't imagine how else to phrase IS THERE A FREAKING AIR CONDITIONER OR NOT?????

She senses danger and touches my arm. "Is over the bed. Si? Yes?"

Si. 

Sometimes I tire of my own stupidity, but it is what it is, so I go to my room and turn on the giant, white, modern, and painfully obvious air conditioner which looms over the bed I have been baking in for the last 2 nights.

I strip down, and let it blow like a Canadian snow storm and after a very few minutes realize I have already have a serious fever chill, my teeth are chattering and this is probably not a good idea.  I put on my clothes, wrap the shawl around me and set my medication, kleenex and water on the end table.  I take the wool blanket from the wardrobe, the one from the couch and crawl in.  I drug myself up and watch a lizard crawl up the wall until neither of us care anymore.

Thursday, August 20

Woke up inside a sopping wet cocoon that smells like a sheep corpse.  The bird is squawking and I lay there for a bit to take inventory of my illness.  I know I woke up in the middle of the night because of some annoying nattering only to realize it was my own snoring, but other than that, I seem to feel better.  I don't really want to admit sleeping in a sauna for a few nights has cured me, but I will say, it might have and I secretly enjoy when the universe takes care of me when I clearly do not.  Left to my own brilliance, I would have run that air at full force the whole time straight to the land of pneumonia.  I get up happy to not in charge of my keep.

Bobo has chosen to eat with another woman this morning. I think my barking cough and rattling lungs have turned him off.   He looks over as if to say, "Hey, we had some fun, let's both just move on."  I can't be bothered telling him I am healed, so I ignore him and plan my day.  I have a lot of catching up to do and I am feeling good, so I am going on a road trip to Kassandra.

It's still early, so I decide to wander down the road to the market which I hallucinate is as lovely and ethnic as where I am. I get to the road and realize there is no sidewalk and don't remember coming in off a busy highway, but there it is.  The ditches are deep and there is nowhere to be but on the edge of the road, so after a few urgent honks and close calls, I decide to cross and walk facing traffic rather than get my head wacked off by the mirror of a truck.

The other side of the road is just as bad.  Cars and trucks race by and honk as if I am driving on the wrong side of the road.  I get tired of lifting my middle finger, and it comforts me to just walk with it saluting before the honks begin.   

The market is not charming.  It's a giant Costco deal squatting boldly and out of place between miles of sunflower fields.  That actually sounded pretty, so let me clarify,the field is not that big and  the sunflowers are long since dead and though they still appeal to me, they look like tragic sun fried soldiers, returning from war in perfect sombre rows.  Had I brought my phone, I would have taken some photos so I make a note to return later.

The store is boring inside, but it's so hot outside I am dripping with sweat and glad to be inside. I don't really need anything but waste a bit of time studying what Greeks snack on and consider buying a hat and sunscreen.  I feel so much like myself and my burn is losing it's sting, so of course I have no need for such things and buy a hot pink tube top instead so I can burn my bras at the first opportunity that presents itself.  I deem this a wise and prudent decision and trek back to Paradise.

Taxi drivers around the world are the same. I believe I hate them all.  This one has started with the usual cheery banter which I am supposed to be so taken with I tip him ridiculously.  Not today  pal.  I have become a wise and savvy traveller and your charms are wasted on me.  

I pay him a ridiculous fee regardless and climb down nothing short of a cliff to the beach of Kassandra.  I have never seen this sort of turquoise water.  I will never understand how something  crystal clear becomes turquoise but I accept the phenomenon, wiggle my toes in white soft sand and let the water consume me.

The water can't decide if it's hot or cold and I float in and out of pockets of both. Little schools fish wiggle pretending to have somewhere to go. The sky is bright and lovely.  Clouds don't seem to be allowed in Greece and I wonder how many absolutely cloudless days I have seen.  I decide none and float around like an air mattress for a long long time.  I hear me warning of sunburn agony, but I'm an idiot, so I float much longer until my body choses a new argument and seduces me out with hunger.

I wrap my bright orange shawl around me like a moo moo and hike around the town for a bit.  It's cute and unassuming.  People seem busy doing people things.  Store owners look bored and indifferent as to whether I come in or not.  The word Italy has been replaced by Greece on souvenir towels, keychains, bells and figurines, but it's all familiar. I make a note to find the identity of the guy with the giant penis is.  I spin displays I am not even interested in just for the sake of spinning them and conclude I am full of shopping and empty of food.

There is a restaurant overlooking the sea perched above the beach so I find a place by the railing and order fried zucchini and tzatziki.  I don't know who invented this stuff, but it has become my favourite and though we just met a few days ago, I crave it. I will only order food with tzatziki.  I don't even really care what the food is, it's that sauce I am after. I'm sure I would happily chow it down with a side of cardboard.  I feel the same way about Greek yogurt.  Greek yogurt is delicious.  I hate yogurt, but I must summize I have only tasted plastic pots of sludgy chemical impostors.  When I get back to Canada I will seek these two things out and I will eat them every day for the rest of my life.  I will never eat indoors again or without white linen.  I am no longer a savage.

Down in the water there is an ancient little Greek in a speedo who is heading out into the water.  The waves are thwapping his dangling little boobs as he marches on.  This amuses me.  

I found a pretty little place to paint an egg.  It's a whitewashed stone wall with a flowering vine dripping from it so I got a glass of wine and painted my first Greek egg.  On the way home, we drove along the shore and I wondered where the men only beach was.  I wondered what the men do at said beach and assumed it must be like these old boy clubs where they smoke cigars and act all cool except without walls or a roof.  I don't want to go there anyway and try to lock the views of Greek shores and sand into my skull.

I return to Chalkadiki and the bird welcomes me home.  I look up into trees trying to track this phantom once and for all, but he eludes me with sudden silence so I head back to my bungalow.  I hear one last mocking squawk in the distance and decide this is now personal and shall resume the hunt tomorrow.

I decided to go back to the sunflower field to take some photos.   I braved the traffic once more and in spite of great caution and knowing better, took a short cut into the field down a grassy hill only to slide on my ass in the wet ditch below. The climb out was as steep as the tumble in.  So much for short cuts.  

I am not one to really care about my appearance when on adventures, so I disregard my muddy ass and matted hair.  As I introduce myself to these soldiers and maidens who tower above me, I imagine they wanted me to look familiar and the mud slide was just a little welcoming rite of passage so I would fit in.

The sun started setting as the sun does, and where most people would surmise darkness will follow, I heed no warning and happily walk further and further from civilization in the crowd, obliviously clicking away.

I regret not seeing the sunflowers of Europe in all their glory but every stage of their lives is beautiful and though the field started to get a bit wet under foot and reminded me of our fields at home where your shoes can fall victim to the sucking pull of the mire, I press into the unknown.  Just as I become aware of how quickly darkness is descending I find the reason the muses have lured me out so far.  No higher than my knee, one little sunflower in rebellious youth  and regal form looks up at me as if to say, "Thanks for coming out to see me.  I deserved to be seen."  

I laughed and sighed and revelled in the moment, took some photos, kissed him goodbye and dark as it was, headed contently toward the sound of traffic. 

There must be some acoustic phenomenon that happens in a sunflower field after dark.  The sound of traffic seemed to be coming from every direction I turned.  I actually don't even know if I turned. In retrospect, I probably walked in a concentric circles for an hour.  Those lovely maidens started to look like busy body gossips who were discussing a certain fool who cannot seem to exist without getting lost every day.  Those gentle leaves that shook my hand in greeting earlier seemed to be pushing me around now like bullies in a school yard.  The stately soldiers glared indifferently to my plight and offered solace nor direction.

It is a very unnerving thing to be lost in anything taller than yourself.  There was no restaurant in which to sit down and regroup with a map and a glass of wine so I decided to stop and think. 

I remembered seeing the fields from the road.  They did not go on for miles as my trek would suggest.  I remembered the market on one side, trees on the other and a plowed field beyond.  My spider senses deduced that because I had not reached the road or any of the options, I am incapable of walking in a straight line.

This was valuable insight and so I decided to follow an actual row of sunflowers instead of meandering in and out.  All of a sudden, like gracious ushers, who moments ago were looking like Freddy Krugers to me, bowed with outstretched arms along the rut that would be my path to safety and sanity.  

Of course I did not come out at the road, the market or the plowed field.  I came out into the tree line which separated it from the resort!  Oh how clever was I!  I was so clever, that after 15 minutes of trying to walk a straight line through not only trees, but the heavy brush and brambles that lay beyond.

It was as if every burr, branch and bug was determined to leave it's mark on me.  I came out of the wilderness into the dining area where the few people eating dinner (including my neighbours) pretended not to see me or wonder what I was up to today.  It was only when I got back to my room and saw my reflection that I appreciated the courtesy.  My hair was randomly pointing here and there, I had scratches and bulging bites on my face and arms, my shoes were ringed with mud and my ass was now a dried mud orb.  I squinted my eyes and realized I could pass for a massive dead sunflower myself. 

 Showered, fed, warm and composed in the safety of my room, I will gladly confess I am now afraid of sunflowers. I should be afraid of myself, but fools are not that bright.  

I close my diary, say my prayers and am thankful for another day completely well spent.

Nit

Friday, August 21

This is my last day in Chalkadiki.  I have been at the pool people watching all day.  I noticed the men talk to each other and not much to the women.  The kids seem to love the men and get scolded and kissed often by the women.  There is always food and drink. Bits of this and that, then more of that and a little more of this.  I like the sound of the Greeks.  I have no idea what they are saying, but I like watching them burst into laughter.  For a moment I think they are talking about me and narrow my eyes. They are not.  Or are they?

I cannot pin a look on the Greek people.  I expected them all to look like my friend Sofi or Tommy her beloved.  These two are pretty darn attractive and though I have seen a few Sofi impersonators, and some well crafted Greek men, the majority are as random as anywhere else.  There is something I can't identify and it may not be a physical attribute, but different as they appear, they still look good.  It could be the way they carry themselves or how fit and tanned most seem, but even the pudgy and the unattractive have a certain wonderful air about them.  

The sun is hiding and it's time to pack up, book a car and move on.   I finished my book and sorry I read it. 

I am sitting under this heavenly Greek night sky eating walnuts and feta on toasted bread.  I have wine, you, Bobo and no desire for anything else.  I have loved my time here. I count my blessings and pray the next great invention comes from Greece and that it is big enough to heal their economy and celebrates the glory of this place.

Nite

Saturday, August 22

Thanks Chalkidiki for a truly wonderful time. This morning there was a basket of white hard boiled eggs as if to say, "We want to be painted too!"  I steal one. I wish I had a laptop so I could blog, but that would mean less time by the sea, less yogurt eating, dog sitting and painting.  So it will wait until I get home. I would have missed so much.

I head toward the office with Bobo in tow to settle my debt.  I hear a fig drop behind me.  A miss.  I hear the bird and can't stand the defeat of not tracking him down.  

As I pay the bill and say good bye, the bird is squawking relentlessly.  I stand out front waiting for my car and peering up into trees.  One of my favourite waiters sees me and peers up with me.  I explain I am looking for this noisy bird that I hear every day and who is somewhere close but has suddenly shut up again.  He smiles in recognition, pats my shoulder and says "He is here! In the house!" He leads me around the side of the house and there on the porch, hidden among the trees we meet.

I approach the cage and there he sits, like a cocky little comedian on his perch looking at me.  He's a parrot or something.  He got kicked out of the house for being a loudmouth.  I can relate and I pretend he is happy to meet me.  He jumps around a bit and then lets out his signature squawk and though I am tempted to squawk back, I just say good bye and let his ranting fade into the distance as walk toward the car that will lead me toward my next adventure.

Later