I only spent three full days on Naxos, but I can already tell you about Yiannis, the advocate of Ammos restaurant, always boasting of their excellent seafood and small menu. He greeted me every day with, “Hello, Lady” as an answer to my, “Yia sas.” His resilient smile won me over for my last supper—well, that and the octopus hanging from the line. He asked if I was Greek because of my unwavering effort to speak to him this way, and when I replied, “Eimai Ellinida mono stin psihi mou,” (I’m Greek only in my soul), he said that was the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard.
I can tell you about the pleasantly round toothless woman who sits in the blue chair on the porch of Despina’s Rooms, one hotel among many in the maze of the old market, quietly watching passersby. I didn’t realize she was watching me take a photo of her neighbors flowers, but her face lit up when I said, “Ola edo einai omorfi” (everything here is beautiful). She wanted to know where I was from and if my parents were Greek. I said no, I have just been studying Greek for the past 11 months. “Milas poli POLI kala,” she said. She said I spoke so well, she couldn’t believe it, and anything else she said was lost in my happiness because she was impressed.
I can tell you about Vasillis, with a fisherman’s tanned skinned and bleached white dreadlocks who appears and disappears from the local taverna on his motorbike, who drinks Mythos and eats meze and has a devil’s advocate glint in his eye whenever he stirs up conversation. He was convinced I was returning to Thasos for a boy, but when I told him, “Oxi, epefta erotasmeni me tin Ellada stin Thaso, kai thelo na gyriso” (No, I fell in love with Greece on Thassos, and I want to return), he stared straight into my eyes, and smiled. “Bravo,” he said, and lifted his glass to me.
I can tell you about Mihalis, the proprietor of a coffee shop in the central plateia of Naxos Town, who has unexpectedly placed tattoos in the center of each arm. He was the first person I met on Naxos. I had followed Google maps up hills and down alleys in the complete opposite direction of my B&B, and I stopped in front of this coffee shop to remove some layers and wipe the sweat from my forehead. I was the pinnacle of beauty.
He spoke first to me in Greek, asking me to sit and have something, and I said, “Oxi, efharisto,” but he insisted.
I started to explain, “Prospatho na vro—“ I’m trying to find…
And suddenly he realized, “You are not Greek! I thought you were*. What are you looking for?”
*I’ve been told that Americans are easy to spot because of their baseball caps and tennis shoes, both of which I was wearing. Plus, I was carrying all of my luggage. The fact that I was still mistaken for a Greek is most complimentary.
“Tha mino sto ‘Margos’?“
“You can speak in English.”
I spoke a mix of Greek and English, but by this point, I had pulled up Google maps and learned that my destination was a 13-minute walk away (which, retrospectively, was a lie), and looking at the map, he said, “That is too far! You have bags. No, no, give me the number, I will call them.”
“No really, it’s okay—“
“Katze, katze, sit, sit,” and off he went with the phone to call the owners and tell them to get me.
He returned with a glass of cold water. “They are coming for you,” he said.
“Efharisto poli,” I said, thanking him. Extending my hand, I added, “Eimai Jenny.”
“Mihalis,” he said, smiling.
Just then I received a phone call, so our conversation was cut short until the AirB&B owners came to fetch me. I attempted to leave money on the table as a thank you, but Mihalis caught me and chided, “Oh no, no, no! Take it, that is yours!” He hovered over me until I’d put the euro back in my purse. “Okay,” he said.
Two hours later, I returned to the plateia, to the coffee shop, and sat down. I was greeted by a surprised look on Mihalis’ face. “I am here for a coffee now,” I said.
His employee, a young 20-something who looked slightly confused when I ordered in Greek, left to prepare an Espresso Freddo. Mihalis and I talked about where I was from and why I am learning Greek. I told him about the writing workshop and Thasos. He was my first friend in Naxos.
When it was time to leave, I thanked him once again for rescuing me upon my arrival.
“Tipota,” he said. “It was nothing.”
“Hareeka poli,” I told him. It was a pleasure to meet you.
“Kai ego. I hope it will not be the last time,” he said.
I assured him it wouldn’t.
Yesterday was my last day on Naxos. I planned to have a coffee and tell him about my adventures on Naxos. The beaches, the conversations, the food. I wanted to say my goodbyes. But when I crossed the town and walked up the hill to the plateia, I saw that the coffee shop was no longer there. Where Mihalis and I had sat on the covered deck, there were only chairs and tables from the neighboring restaurant. The coffee shop’s doors were closed, and through the darkness, I could see chairs stacked on tables.
“Pou einai O Mihalis?” I asked someone from the restaurant, wondering where Mihalis was.
“From next door? He is…around, I don’t know where. He’s closing here 1st of June.” Eyeing my baseball hat, he asked, “Do you know him?”
“Nai…kai tha figo avrio. Hthela na ton po ‘yia sas.’” My American accent was pretty thick as I said I wanted to say goodbye to Mihalis before I left.
“I will see him,” this man said. “I will tell him. What is your name?”
“Jenny,” I said. “The Americanida.”
Luggage or no luggage, Mihalis was right. It was a long road back.