Walk #3, with: AJ and Effie
Where: A short, breakfast-time amble around Mytilini, Lesbos
When: 23 February 2016
Though we've both lived mostly in Stoke Newington (less than a mile apart) for a decade, AJ and I first met in Skala Eressos (birthplace of Sappho) in Greece during the summer of 2011. AJ spends every summer there and speaks Greek. We hit it off and spent long afternoons on the beach, me fascinatedly learning about AJ's particular brand of (life-long) open non-monogamy, AJ - to my surprise - just as intrigued to hear about my lifetime of reluctant monogamy! Since then we've become firm friends, with shared interests in relationship ethics and food amongst other things. Effie is another of the wonderful Greek friends of AJ that I'd first met in Athens before Christmas.
AJ lives one of the busiest lives I know, specialising it seems to me in rushing from place to place and fitting as much doing into her days as a person can. So it was no great surprise when she announced she was coming to Greece for less than a week, spending a few days in Athens, then taking the overnight ferry (with Effie) to Mytilini to see me and Cookie (a friend of hers who I'd just been volunteering with in the north of Lesbos) and to pay a flying visit to Eressos. Mindful of their tight schedule I met AJ and Effie from their ferry at 8am and we sat on the harbour drinking coffee and tea in the warm sunshine. They seemed to have slept well and were in good spirits, excited about their micro-adventure. Effie too works extraordinarily hard (supporting some touring Greek musicians), checking her email periodically during our meeting and taking at least one call. When I met AJ and Effie again three days' later after their 250km triangular circuit of Lesbos I was amazed how much they'd managed to fit in: baking, gardening, shopping, visiting Cookie's refugee project, two meetings with me..! This prompted me to reflect on the psychology of travelling with vs. without a time limit.
I hadn't seen AJ since leaving the UK so we talked a bit about my adventures. Then we walked around the harbour to a sun-drenched bakery terrace where Effie ordered two or three kinds of 'pie' (pastry) including my favourite bougatsa (always amusingly translated as 'cream pie') onto half of which she sprinkled cinnamon, which AJ doesn't like.
Mytilini harbour is one of the places the Greek coast-guard had recently begun landing refugees by the hundred, picking them up at sea from their precarious rubber boats; the same harbour was a few weeks later the scene of demonstrations as inhumane deportations back to Turkey began. That particular morning there was little happening (save for a single orange life-jacket floating in the middle of the harbour), but of course we talked quite a bit about the so-called 'refugee crisis' and Greece's role in responding to it. I asked Effie to write me a notice in Greek explaining that I would be camping in the olive grove behind a small chapel while working nightshifts at the unofficial 'Better Days for Moria' refugee camp.
We talked about Effie's concern about her vocal chords, which she seemed to have strained (heavy smoking and working in smoky environments can't have helped) and how impossible it felt - given the pressure of her work - to take some time out to rest her voice completely as she needs to do.
After our breakfast we meandered around the backstreets of Mytilini, where Effie was keen to buy a few supplies and local delicacies and to place an order for sausages to be collected on their return to catch their Athens-bound flight!
As I walked with them to where they would catch their bus to Eressos via Kalloni I told AJ that revisiting Eressos after five transformative years had recently provided me with an opportunity to reflect on how much I've grown; sometimes very confusing painful growth in which AJ has been a significant source of support and guidance. I also told her that, having managed to remove my head at least partially from my own arse, I was better able to appreciate Skala Eressos: its landscape, queer-friendly vibe and at this time of year its abundance of stunning almond blossom.
Thank you AJ for being my friend these last five years, and Effie I hope I'll be saying the same to you in another five years' time! I hope your throat feels better soon. Thank you both for being part of my new love affair with Greece.