Symphony: A Song of Hydra by Glenn Steiner
The morning sun wrapped its arms about me, reaching through my country window, gently shaking me awake. I pulled up the rough hewn, woolen blanket closer to my neck, listening. Not a single moped nor a single automobile could be heard, only the songs of animals, the laughter of children.
I opened one eye and peered out.
My friend, a big whiskered donkey that Ive nicknamed Pavarotti, nuzzled the window pane, fogging its surface with his breath.
I smiled. The morning symphony was just starting to warm up.
A single church bell pealed, a single soprano sweetly spilling from its bell. A minute later from across the valley, another churches set of twin alto bells sang out. Then another church joined, and yet another. Music cascaded across the hills of Italianate houses that ring the valley.
I held my breath. My menagerie was not to be out done.
The rooster started with his preemptory cock-a-doodle-DAAA. The hens clucked in concert. The neighbors yappy dog barked and barked, baring its one good tooth joyously. The gray and white doves coo-ed loudly and sparrows cheap-cheap-ed. The herd of brown and white goats suddenly cried out in chorus.
Pavarotti had nudged open the window.
Then, as if rising to the barnyard challenge, Pavarotti threw back his enormous head, and let fly with a larger-than-life bray: AWWW-HEEE-HAAAAW-HEEE-HAWWWWWW.
Pavarottis bray exploded into the room. I levitated off the bed.
All illusions of falling back to sleep had gone the way of the morning light. I threw on enough clothes to ward off the spring chill air, and set out to explore the day.
In my wisdom after Poros, I had decided to find a domatia as far as possible from the town center. Imagine that Hydra is shaped like a coffee cup, with the cut-a-way open at one end facing the sea. In a sense, I lived about half way up the side of the bowl.
This morning started with a hike down one hundred and forty two steep, marble steps. Whether there were building permits when the steps were originally cut, remains lost in the mists of time. One didnt politely, gently step down in the English sense. One kind of jumped, using the adjacent buildings for additional purchase. Whomever says the Greeks didnt invent the Stairmaster, I would humbly beg to differ.
The Hydriots, both young and old, sprang up and down their ancient staircases with the agility of mountain goats.
At the end of the steps, I turned right at the stately Hotel Aris, the last bastion for aristocracy. A cobble stone path of reddish and bluish rocks marked the way to town.
The schools play yard and Hydras miniature coliseum filled this part of the valley. From behind the perimeter wall, I heard the laughter and shouting of children at play.
A breeze swept down from the mountains crest, lifting a cluster of bougainvillea high into the air and then swirling the flowers forward. I meandered to the port, from one moment to the next surrounded by a halo of wind blown blossoms.
I sat by my favorite or bakery shop and ate the most sinfully, buttery croissant and fresh orange juice.
Ships of all descriptions filled Hydras smallish, but energetic harbor. Colorful fishing caiques, rusty World War II landing ship troops, massive Sea Jet ferries, sleek Flying Dolphins, and local transport ships worked the harbors inner ring. The larger charter sailing boats and multi-million dollar mega yachts looked on from the outer periphery. Twenty three tavernas, untold trinket shops, domatia, hotels, gyros stands, jewelry stores, clothing emporiums, bakeries, butcher shops and internet cafes ringed the harbor.
Hydra had wisely outlawed motor vehicles on land. Yet, business still had to be done. The Greeks had compensated magnificently, creating a system that blended nineteenth and twenty-first century technology.
Motorized boats would pull into the quay. Forty two donkeys stood at the ready. Those merchants who could not afford four legged transport, used large two wheeled carts, pushing their goods ship to shore.
This was the best show in town.
Teams of donkeys carried everything from rebar, to concrete sacks, to stoves and smallish refrigerators, to suitcases and gaily dressed tourists up the valley walls.
By 12 noon, hundreds of Greeks and (or foreigners) milled about, further adding to the absolute excitement and perfect confusion.
Yet, peace and quiet lay just around the next cove. From the harbor, I followed the goat track that rose high along the cliffs. The fresh sea breeze carried the salt-laden air, enriching my lungs. The sea sparkled below the gray-stone cliffs, illuminating cerulean waters, transforming them into silver and gold. Pine trees grew into forests and prospered.
After a short two kilometers, my path dropped down into the 19th century seaport hamlet of Vlyhos. You had two tavernas, one cliff top ouzerie, a small pebble beach, several or rooms, and a small harbor butting up onto the sea. Again, no motorize transport existed. Everything made its way by fishing caique or by sure-footed donkey. Watching old fishermen repair their nets, I dined at the local taverna, and enjoyed a succulent gyros made of roast lamb and a glass of , the local wine. I promised myself that someday I would return with Rose to visit Vlychos, a paradise by the sea.
I walked back past Hydra and up the one hundred and forty two stairs to my mountain aerie. My balcony jutted out over the valley. I sat on the edge of the parapet. Far, far below, I could just make out the port. The burning embers of the fading Greek sun blazed through my canopy of star jasmine. Its flowers warmed gently, giving off a delicate perfume. A breeze swept down from the top of the hill. Somewhere, the rooster crowed again. I heard Pavarotti happily munching some of the purple nettles beneath my window. From the top of the crest high above my room, I could just barely hear the tinkling of goats bells, before drifting off into reverie.