Aegean Dramas

Well, it sure is a long hot summer in Greece this year – no regular Meltemi winds to cool Attica and the islands, means that temperatures have topped 40 degrees Celsius on several occasions.

But if you want fresher airs and cooling breezes you go to the Northern Cycladic Islands, such as Tinos – home to the legendary cave of Aeolus, god of wind. And if you are on a Greek Islands sailing holiday, then everyone wants to go to Mykonos – the island where anything goes…

The trouble is, is that sailing around Mykonos and Tinos is not easy. Some superstitious Greek skippers won’t go to Tinos, because they don’t want to rattle Aeolus’ cage. Yet, all guests and bare boat charterers want to go to Mykonos – a decision many regret as they endure a bumpy ride to get to the island. Then after that, they are struggling to tie up in the marina in a Force 6 or 7, often 8, with anchors are getting tangled, boats being blown on to walls and each other. The rush hour around 6pm in the evening in high season at the marina in Mykonos is better than any TV soap opera, as small sail boats, big stink pots, ferries and fishing boats jostle for some kind of pecking order and a spot in the crowded port.

Once you are tied up, though, it is all worth it: the beach bars and restaurants on Mykonos might be expensive, but they are truly stunning in style. The island’s scenery has been preserved by not allowing non-Cycladic Island architecture to spring up in the name of development. Mykonos Town (the Chora) is a classic old Cycladic village of narrow streets separating white box Greek houses and tiny churches. Myth has it that the streets were made so narrow, so that the pirates and partiers who colonised the island centuries ago, could ricochet drunkenly along them to find their way home late at night. It’s amazing how pirates always find cool spots and turn them into hot spots.

There is plenty of pirate influence in contemporary Greek culture – anyone who works in boating in Athens lives in Paleo Faliro, the southern beach area, populated by yachties, skippers, captains, pirates, smugglers, gangsters, charmers and other louche livers. I live on the edge of the area in Kalamaki, which has a huge marina and is the place to get anything done to do with boats. But it is all myth – the area is very safe, I swim every day I can and it is friendly and as interconnected as Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

The interconnectedness of the area is a feature of all of Greece. Everyone knows everyone or is related to someone that they know. It is not considered rude in Greece to ask complete strangers how old they are, where they live and if they are married. When I queried this (after being utterly shocked as a British woman that I was being personally interrogated within seconds of being introduced to someone) to a friend, explaining that it is seen as very offensive to ask a woman her age in England, he laughed and reminded me that there are only 10 million people living in Greece and so people are always checking whether or not they are related to a potential new mate.

But this doesn’t make the dating game any easier… Not only have I learned that Athenian men generally have more than one girlfriend, I have also gleaned that the most important woman in a Greek man’s life is his mother. As many men live with their mothers when they are single, you are bound to cross the paths of these matriarchs. It is quite common for the older generation to speak less English that their children, as I found when I was trying to organise a date with a guy who lives in Pireaus with his mum. Whenever I phoned his house and asked to speak to him in English, his mother hung up on me.

To escape the heatwave, I went to Mykonos for work. It was a somewhat stressful experience, as we were doing corporate day and evening sails in up to 30 knots of wind, but somehow I managed to run the much moving bar efficiently enough to be offered a bar job in the gay Jackie O bar in the Little Venice area of the Chora. Then it was off to Santorini to pick up a yacht and deliver it back to the mainland.

Everything was going well, in spite of the fact that we were going upwind in a catamaran in a Force 7-8, until we lost an engine and sprung a leak off Cape Sounio. Unfazed, I started bailing and organised us a tow into Lavrio, where we then had a crazy moment hauling the boat out of the water in the dark and a howling gale. But we did it and the boat was saved and easily repaired. You have to hand it to the Greeks, they can get anything done in a flash if necessary – you have to pay cash and dispense with bureaucracy, but at least things happen when they need to.

To celebrate our safe return and to appreciate the beauty of summer, we did a trek of Cape Sounio under the last August full moon. The archeological site of the ancient Temple of Poseidon was open late and free for all, so we were not alone in our venture. But the sky was full of shooting stars big enough to show up beside a moon so bright that the Aegean Sea was lit up so we could see as far as the island of Kithnos to the East. And there is nothing more appropriate for yachties in Greece than to worship at the temple of Poseidon – it was a truly charming evening.

Olympic Games

I thought I had seen and heard it all in the social maze that is London with regards to the dating dance of life, but no – try running the marathon that is dating Greek men in Athens…

Most of my Greek friends are men and all of them seem to have at least 2 women on the go and at least two mobile phone numbers – one for work, one for social and some have a third ‘for the women’. It is fairly standard for Athenian men to have one girlfriend for behind closed doors and another that they wheel out for family events and special occasions.

Greek men are very open about the fact that they might want to date you, but will then never follow up on the initial meeting or enthusiam until their wife or long-term girlfriend is out of town, which means you don’t hear from them and assume that they are not interested. And then you get called out of the blue and end up having three dates with them in a week. After which you might not hear from them again…

Hilariously, there is also no subterfuge about whether or not they are married – one guy told me he was ‘a little bit’ married, while another said to me that he loved his wife, but still wanted to take me out. I was more than a bit bewildered by all of this, until I made friends with a very wise single woman, who plays the men soundly at their own game. Said lady has a young lover, two daters – one married and one divorced – with an intellectual on/off partner for all the other times.

Then one of my best mates, who is very much single at the moment but has had good relationships with some truly stunning women, told me that it is often better to have a number of entertaining summer flirts, ideally out of Athens in the country or the islands, as most people in the apparently civilised society of Athens are busy being married and messing around – so the locals’ tip is have fun, but don’t get involved.

Athens is a calmer, quieter place in August, as most people shut up shop and disappear for the month. It’s insanely hot at this time of the year, so you can understand why everyone wants to go to the islands, but the city itself is on the beach and with less traffic and people in town, those who have to stay for the holiday month, take back the city for themselves. It is in fact a very cool city: it has a low crime rate, an excellent cultural scene and miles of beach. There’s some of Europe’s top shopping, fabulous food and ancient history to soak up everywhere. There are also masses of leafy squares where you can sit in the shade of a cafe and put the world to rights in that most Mediterranean of ways – over coffee.

Most Athenians would argue that it is way too hot in August to work too hard and so much of the sultry day is spent resting and then the place comes alive at night when the temperature drops a little. Cinemas are busiest for their late shows from 11pm, bars don’t get going until well after midnight and walking home at 3 in the morning is a bit like catching the last train in London: there are plenty of other people doing the same.

Athenians are, however, very parochial. When I decided to embark on a journey across town to an inner city suburb, where a cinema was playing a particular film I wanted to watch, I couldn’t find anyone to give me directions, as none of my friends knew the area. In general, people know where they live, where they work, where their folks live and that’s all they need to know. So I set off with a street map that was to a titchy scale, into the dusk, to an area that was residential and so not terribly well lit. It was too dark for me to read my map and it and all the street signs were in Greek anyway, so I was struggling from the outset. After several Greek versions of a wild goose chase – Athenians are hopeless at giving directions and I was getting them in very difficult to understand Greek English – I finally found the open air cinema I was after and settled down to watch a Swedish film with Greek subtitles, which was a further linguistic challenge. Somehow I managed to enjoy the movie.

Then I was in the country for the weekend and got invited to a beach party, which most people didn’t know how to get to, or how to get back to Athens from afterwards. In a ludricrous comedy of errors on the day after, in the middle of a heat wave and a fuel crisis and with thumping hangovers, we managed to run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere and had to flag down a lift to my car, which was also low on petrol, but was parked at a marina where we knew we could get some. Crazy days of summer – Greek style.