Thursday, July 21, 2011

Notes from Hydra. 5.

We wake earlier than usual, share a grapefruit on the roof and let the surprisingly cool morning propel us down the steps to the port that breathes with laughing, noisy locals. It is just after 7, and half the town — delivery men dollying 'fragile'-stamped crates; Michael the tan-bellied Los Angelesan painter; swim-suited mothers with big families to feed; a small legion of the island's stray cats — is waiting for the fish.

Some of the boats have been docked. Others are in the process of being tethered to the port. They look like quintessential toy-boats but life-size: comically rounded undersides lob happily among the water's translucent crabs and and fuzzy sea plants. Their wooden bodies bear well painted red stripes and more than one flapping Greek flag. I half-expect to see Popeye's tanned Greek cousin on board. Instead, a sturdy man the color of milky espresso emerges from the steering room of his boat and lugs with him the carcass of a fish that must weigh 100 pounds. He throws rough phrases and laughs to the fisherman on a boat further down, who has been metronomically hammering away at the bones of a 4-foot chunk of fish. I wonder how big it was when he dragged it in from the sea. The wooden hammer makes a surprisingly metallic clank! on the heavy backbone. It sounds impossible to crack. Finally, the iridescent set of scales loosens, and the fisherman pulls the skin back like a sock to reveal huge hunks of flesh the color of ruby grapefruit. The felines are licking their lips.

Hoping for a a nibble, a dozen cats inch their bottoms towards the silvery-blue skin that hypnotizes them in the sunlight. Except for us and a handful of other early-rising tourists, no one notices their quiet meows, their plea for a sea breakfast.

A man leading a pair of glossy-coated red setters strolls past several boats. He bids robust good mornings of Kalimera! and actually tips his panama hat to the shrunken grandmother who shuffles past. He reaches the boat where the fisherman continues to hammer away, he heels the dogs, shouts his order and engages the seller in a heavily animated story while he waits. A few cats take the eccentric man for an easy target, but with fish-in-bag-in-hand, he gives nothing away and continues his saunter west, towards Mari-Mara.

The boats don't stay for long. Soon after we've reached the port, we hear their battered engines rumble like congested chests, and with Popeye's breathren at the helms, we watch as the messy fleet put-puts away, into the Aegean.

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