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Tuesday
Apr102018

The Taverna on the Water’s Edge

I’m a big fan of the joint British and French TV show Death in Paradise. It’s filmed on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The show is character based and features a murder each week. Of course one of the things I like about it is the seemingly idyllic setting and in particular the scenes that take place at the local café near the water’s edge. The characters sit outside drinking beer and laughing. I love it.

I had an experience not unlike the Guadeloupe café. It was not in the Caribbean, however, but in Greece. I made several visits to Areopolis on the Mani Peninsula. The town sits high above the Mediterranean, but down a switch-baking road you find the village of Limeni were I have spent many hours sitting in a café, well actually a taverna, on the water’s edge.

I first wrote about Limeni in my book Notes from 39,000 Feet in a chapter called In the Absence of our Desired Hope. Here’s the part about my café experiences:

Limeni is located on a small inlet within a larger bay about two miles from Areopolis. Along the bay, and especially at Limeni, the water moves onto the shore with relative peace. The mountains rise above the tiny village, and atop the mountains, on a flat plateau, is the larger town of. Further down the road about a mile along the shoreline is Neon Itilan. At the time of my visit, the land was dry and barren, but a villager told me that in the spring it comes alive with wild flowers, life and colour, Eden-like.

Small villages dotted the mountainsides and plateau lands. They seemed as old as the mountains themselves, and all had Mani towers, family fortresses, reminders of past vendettas and violence. Many villages were abandoned, warred to death. Still others seemed so, but people would appear from time to time, as old as the buildings. Old women dressed in black. Old men sitting in tiny tavernas sipping dark coffee or drinking retsina. Priests oppressed in black robes and hats.

Limeni Limeni is beautiful; with old stone buildings which have been worked and reworked through the generations. Some buildings were in ruins, but, interestingly, did not detract from the beauty of the village. Sitting in the taverna I could see the small bay and beyond it the open Mediterranean. To the right I could see a low ridge of mountains, baked in the sun. Beyond that a higher ridge, beyond it a still higher ridge, and beyond that open sky and large white clouds. The clouds would spill over the furthest and highest ridge, evaporating, disappearing.

The taverna was built on a slope leading from the road down to the water's edge. Rooms were at road level and above. The taverna’s patio was below at the water level. There were stone steps leading from the road to the café and kitchen, and a few more from the kitchen to the patio where people ate and drank. Most of the tables were situated under a wrought iron veranda, which led from the taverna to the edge of the patio. The tables themselves were covered with blue and white chequered tablecloths, typical for Greece, bright and pleasant. Clothes pegs held the cloths to the table legs. The metal frame of the veranda was covered with bamboo, tied in place, old and worn. The weather-worn bamboo was comforting, the sun filtering through bamboo causing patterns of light and shadow that soothed the tables and customers. The rough concrete patio was built to the water's edge, into the rugged rocks that lined the shore. Rocks and patio became one. The metal framing was imbedded into the concrete becoming part of the one. Anchored off shore were small fishing boats, some touchable, others some forty metres out. Their lines ran toward the shore, towards me, ropes fastened to short chains, which were fastened to iron rings which were fastened to iron spikes driven into the rocks.

I was sitting at a table on the water's edge under bamboo on the fifth day since my arrival. Five days previously, I had been struck by the beauty of the village and the bay. Beauty was a good enough reason to stop. On this day I was sensing the presence of peace as different, distinct from a feeling of peacefulness. As I sat drinking Greek black muddy coffee and retsina, eating bread, tzatziki, meatballs, and salad, I wondered what it was, this peace.

How much of peace is physical? The rough concrete pouring into the rocks. The water lapping, its peaceful sound, gently filling every crevice in the rocks, and just as gently running out again, as if in Buddhist meditation. The boats rocking rhythmically on the surface of the water. Gently. A small bird flying low across the water. The water shades of blue, light, almost transparent, merging to deep dark blue, almost black. Clean. A large bee humming in the bamboo over my head.

Limeni TavernaI was surrounded by quiet life, or a gentle living. The birds chirping, the bees humming. The buildings alive with time and being, and years of human living. The water alive, slowing filling and touching every space before moving on. The water contained life, surrounded life, created life. The rusty chains and water soaked ropes that joined boats to shore were alive. The ropes covered in green. The chains and rings and spikes rusting. Oxidation as life.

How much of peace is the community? At the end of the patio, to my right, two people sat at a table eating in silence. To my left, on a section of the patio without a bamboo covering, sat a young woman and a middle aged man. Her left foot was on the edge of the chair in which she sat and her right leg rested on another chair. Her hair was full and long and light in colour. Her body was slender, desirable. She wore dark glasses, a white blouse, tight blue jeans, and boots. She was posing for, indeed inviting, the man who sat  opposite her at the small table. He too was stylish. Gold chain on a bare chest, open white shirt, off-white loose trousers. From time to time they both made sure we were noticing them.

An old woman walked between us. She carried a bucket filled with frozen squid. She walked down four steps which were cut into the patio between the rocks and which led to the water, the bottom two steps submerged. The old woman took off her shoes and stood on the last step filling her bucket with water. She placed the frozen squid in the bucket of water to begin thawing, took them out of the bucket and hit them against the concrete steps. Then she filled the bucket again and put the squid back in the bucket to renew the cycle.

As I watched, I noticed still further to my left around the curve of the small bay, two people sitting on their balcony, looking back across the water, the boats, the taverna, at me. And behind us all, near the entrance to the taverna, sat an old man. Fisherman by the looks of him, weathered and unshaven. He sat by himself drinking Greek coffee, saying nothing. He hardly moved at all.

How much of peace is spiritual? The physical reaching into my body, mind, and soul. The sounds easing the mind. Beauty moving the spirit. The company of animals, people, water, and rust becoming a communion of sorts.

Even in that deep place of my being, within peace itself, there was slight disturbance in the form of an even deeper longing. Even as I experienced peace, I longed for it to go deeper, to flow in gently and fill every crack and crevice of my sometimes battered being. Even as I acknowledged with gratitude that peace existed in that moment, I longed for it to exist always.

Impossible.

Perhaps.

Peace for most of us is only a temporary experience. The most we can expect, because it is the most we have experienced. It is a repeating of the momentary. But we can long for, hope for, is for such peace to be permanent.

It is a glimpse, like a silent whisper. The deeper the peace, the deeper we pursue it. And that was it. That was what it was, this deep running longing. To reach something deep within me and without me, to touch it, so that I could be reconciled with the universe. Peace, not as temporary relationship, but as constant. Not as an exceptional experience, but as commonplace experience.

Even as I searched around me for the meaning of what was happening, things began to change. A breeze came up. The water was finding new energy. Gentle lapping became a crashing. The boats began to rock more violently, move towards me and the water splashed at my feet. The bamboo began to sing. The two people at the end of the terrace began to speak. The man and woman of glamour got up and began to leave, walking up the steps toward the road. As they left, the woman took off her sunglasses and smiled at me. She was inviting us all to watch. The old fisherman lit his pipe and coughed, clearing his throat unpleasantly, without the hesitation of self-consciousness. And two policemen walked down the steps joining us under the bamboo.

The moment had passed.

Copyright © 2010 Dale Rominger

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