Meeting Mimaw in Santorini
“Krissss … “ Meg whines exasperated from behind me. I can almost feel the breath from her sigh on the back of my neck. Actually, I wish I could. She doesn’t need to say anymore. I know exactly how she feels. It’s hot. That stagnant, sticky, thick, brick wall heat where any amount of breaths you take are in vain, leaving you even more winded than before. I had heard July in Greece was brutal but this was on another level.
“Meg. In case you were wondering, I am not having fun either,” I try a laugh but don’t have enough energy for it, attempting to wipe the stinging sweat from my eyes but blinding myself instead with the sweat from the back of my hand. I look back at my younger sister, her long brown hair tied up in a bun with valiant attempt, now sagging and dripping under the relentless sun. The light has drawn each and everyone of her adorable freckles out to meet it. Her tiny, green eyes are nearly shut into squints as she looks at me with a pained expression and I smile inwardly relishing in one of her most endearing childhood habits.
This is the most beautiful place we have been in Greece thus far and rivals for the most beauty I have ever seen in my entire life, but it’s too hot and we are too tired to appreciate it. We woke up this morning in a fit of chocolate and Sagnaki in Kamari, a small beach town in Santorini, with no idea where we were staying once we reached Oia, just knowing we had to move. Now that we are here, we’ve already struck out once despite our pleading attempts to sleep in cots on the roof at the last hostel.
The marble streets are straight out of a Grecian dream and the flowers that overhang above our heads in tapestries of magenta are passed by without enough brain capacity to yet realize them. Donkeys pass through the narrow marble streets carrying cases of water or suitcases, led by sun-scorched men with whips. They push around corners and ramble through the crowded narrow streets, eyes mocking our own exhaustion and brushing up against our sweaty skin as they pass, leaving a dust of dark brown hair against our sun tortured arms and legs.
“She said this place might give us a room, it’s just a bit further,” I assure Meg in broken syllables without looking back, securing my palms on my thighs, pressing down with each step, willing myself up this hill. It feels like I’m carrying a 250 lb. dead body in my backpack and I am not entirely sure that I am not at this point. A mass of Asian tourists creep along in front of us, parasails in hand, faces wrapped in embroidered scarves to protect them from the blistering fire in the sky above us. It’s all I can do to not start a stampede to get through them.
After an abundance of entrances and exits between these quaint shops, knocking over delicate embroideries and glass blown extravagances in a disgruntled fit of discomposure and awkward weight trying to find accommodation, we’ve been led towards a home that may or may not take us in. Meg is silent following me and I know she is having a terrible time. I urge us both to keep moving up the stone hill and we make a right as instructed between an art shop and clothing boutique, both displaying their creations outside – vibrant seasides in oil paint and delicate dresses against the caramel stone buildings. The marble walkways turn to ragged, uneven stone and we duck under magenta flowered canopies, a drab and dripping blasphemy in comparison.
A wooden sign, reading Marcus Rooms, hangs on its side from a post jutting from a dusty, white washed house. “Here,” I tell Meg as I push open the faded blue doors that swing open like saloon shutters from an old western. They open up to a courtyard full of white linen hanging on close lines blowing ever so slightly under the scorching sun, also desperate for the slightest movement in the air. An elderly Greek man turns while hanging the sheets and stares at us. He looks confused and intruded on and I’m sure I’ve walked into some family home.
“Um, hi. We were wondering if maybe you had a room we could stay in tonight,” I ask. I can hear my heartbeat against my eardrums and the throbbing pulse banging beneath the skin in my neck.
The wirey man is balding with a few remains of stubborn grey fighters poking from his scalp and his expression does not change, as he looks up from his fogged up spectacles. “We don’t have any rooms,” he says in a thick Greek accent while observing our deflated composure and faces. I nod, feigning nonchalance, pressing my lips into a forced smile and we turn to go.
“Let me ask wife,” he interjects abruptly as we are turning our backs, “Come.” And we follow the impossibly tanned, old man through more overhanging bed sheets and faded blue swinging doors to an adjacent cement terrace a few feet above the narrow road. It looks much the same like everything in Greece does. White washed with blue trim. I wonder again how they got the whole country to agree on this color scheme but I don’t have enough energy to sustain the idea. Pushing up the sleeves of his hemp smock, the man shouts for his wife in what sounds like aboriginal mating calls in his native Greek tongue. An apparition of a woman (whom Meg and I later take to calling Mimaw) appears in a floral scrap, floor length gown; curvy with much more to her than her husband, her dark long hair hangs in coarse, waist length tangles, highlighted in a cloudy gray that matches deep gray eyes peering at us behind a black raccoon mask of make up. Her face appears to be visibly melting off her chin and hangs in folds of layer cake in her neck. My hand instinctively moves to my own neck, seeing if I, too, have melted under the sun like this fabrication of a withered woman before us.
“We have no room,” she reiterates her husband’s first response and the four of us stand facing each other in silence for a moment. I know I should regain composure, tell them that it’s fine, and form some sort of idea about what to do next, but instead I just stand in front of them zombie like and blank faced; Meg at my side, a taller and slimmer frame showcasing the same empty stare. The couple turns towards each other as Meg and I remain dripping lost puppies waiting outside of their harsh Greek whispers.
“We have small room downstairs. We don’t rent it. But, we give it to you if you want for small price,” the melting raccoon tells us.
I glance at Meg and we both nod silently in grateful approval. Mimaw disappears, telling us to sit while she cleans up the basement storage chambers for us. We both collapse into the cushioned bench while we wait. There is a floor length mirror peering back at us on the other side of the bench, which I resent whole heartedly and I stare blankly at our sweat soaked reflections for a moment until Meg and I simultaneously erupt with wheezing laughter at the state of ourselves. Mimaw’s husband hands us a glass of juice and sitting opposite, watches silently as we chug the entire thing. Still dripping in sweat, we declare it to be the most delicious homemade juice of all time. Stubbornly optimistic, we make up stories while we wait, about Mimaw picking fresh fruit this morning and painstakingly squeezing it into this godly nectar while her husband washes the linens against wooden boards by the river at sunrise. Mimaw and Pop Pop. We decide that we love them. (Tomorrow we will find out the juice comes from a knock off brand container found in discount supermarkets and the following day Mimaw will shout at and rebuke us in Greek after our knocks at the kitchen door cause her to bring us a jug of water completely naked. Pop Pop will never speak to us again after this first encounter.)
Mimaw returns above ground carrying a bundle of dirty laundry and I have never wanted to shower and lay down more than right now. We thank her repeatedly before we turn to go downstairs, but she grabs us to show us around. I take a deep breath as I follow her around the house, not caring in the slightest what she’s saying but trying to be polite in exchange for her hospitality. Beautiful antique wooden chests hold silverware and cracked china, an overstuffed fridge full of groceries, light bounds through fresh white curtains and bounces off each white wall… Our footsteps creak over the wide wooden floor boards and an open room catches my eye, pressed white sheets tucked over a beautiful queen bed, the sunlight streaming in the open windows through elegant, sheer curtains. I can taste the feeling of sinking into that plush bed; it’s so close it almost hurts.
"Thank you," I say eager to get to our room as the tour ends. Picking up our bags, we turn towards the steps from the deck that Mimaw had come from. She stops us again and motions us over to a table full of picturesque books of Santorini, pressing one of the heat absorbed hardbacks against Meg’s torso and into her hands, as she thumbs through the others. Meg’s eyes widen as she mouths “the book is on fire,” nearly dropping it. We oblige Mimaw for a moment and nod brainlessly as she flips through the colorful pages and details all the important buildings and where her house is in relationship to each of them - the old churches (all 37 of them), the famous windmill and all the unfamous windmills, red beach, black beach, white beach, and all of their cousin, aunt, and uncle beaches, complete with her rankings of best to worst, intertwining with her life story. Mimaw grew up in the town of Oia. Born and raised in this very home, she bleeds pride and admiration for the town and I can’t bare to break her heart cutting her off, so Meg and I stare glassy eyed at the pages while her broken English washes over us and wait for her to release us.
Somewhere in between showing us the tiny dot where we stood in comparison to the windmill in 15 different views in 4 different books, and her returning to the beaches to change her mind about their ranking order, I lose my mind. Almost certain that someone has slipped me acid this morning, I forgo all certainty and clarity of where I am, with whom, and why. “Just one more actually,” Mimaw says for the 82nd time, holding us hostage with her finger in the air as she flips through pages, "So many surprises to discover." Black spots are beginning to appear in my vision as I restrain with everything I am from being rude, shutting her up, and at last resort, knocking her out so we can lay down. I’m still sweating and I think I’m going blind. I hear a small snort of laughter while my vacant eyes bore holes into Mimaw’s back; I can see Meg out of the corner of my eye, biting her lip while watching my pained expression.
One excruciating hour later, we follow Mimaw’s lead and climb down the small opening in the white concrete floor beneath the outdoor terrace, ducking around and down the winding, cement stairs. We are underground now in a narrow cave, open on either side to the street just a few feet above and everything down here feels wet, including the air and the walls. The door to our room is swollen in the heat and doesn’t shut and its window is missing the pane, leaving a gaping hole, covered in an ancient hanging tea cloth. Inside is a windowless room, dank with white wash cement walls arched in the shape of a rising sun above three beds, box springs poking through starched sheets, and broken, wooden headboards that are nailed into the wall instead of attached to the bed frames.
“You can use this refrigerator,” She opens the door of an empty, yellow stained fridge and the door falls off. “Use the one upstairs,” she slams it shut, turning her back on the hanging open door and keeping her eyes ahead, motioning us to the bathroom.
It’s the size of a basinet; faded pink tiles cover the floor, walls, and ceiling, accented with ornate mold decoupage. There is a toilet leaking onto a wet floor, a sink standing like a desk in front of it so close that you may wash your hands while sitting on said toilet, and a detachable shower head above so that you may also wash your hair while sitting on said toilet.
The hallway leads to two storage closets and three crumbling stone steps climbing to what used to be a miniature door, perfect for an elf but big enough for a person to duck through to exit to or enter from the cobblestone street we came from earlier. There is no longer a door here, but simply a wooden frame in a cement wall leaving the entrance open. The tan ankles of a couple pass by our faces and the sounds of their petty disagreement wash inside and echo off the old concrete walls. But nevermind the multitude of broken openings for possible serial killers in the night, Mimaw repeats “safe, safe, safe,” as she waves her arm at the 4 by 5 view we have of the outside, “you keep open,” she says with finality as if we have a choice, picking up old clothes and broken objects on her way out.
Meg and I are still laughing about our current whereabouts after Mimaw has gone, as we spin around the corridor pointing out each delicacy as if we are amidst upmost royalty. “Ohh, look at these lovely little dreams,” I coo while stroking my fingers across a wilted and weather stained curtain as if it is the finest of lace.
Meg giggles and joins in without missing a beat. “Oh yes, but what about this antique craftsmanship,” She circles the tiny wooden chair sat just next to the crumbling stairs and killer entrance of a window. “A throne for Queens no doubt,” she puts her hands out to her side in a curtsy air and sits daintily on the dark stained wood.
No sooner has Meg delivered the most grace she has ever possessed, all four of the chair’s legs buckle underneath her, dismantling her poised face and leaving her in a heap of wooden shards and dust on the cement floor with a shriek. Now I’m laughing. Tumbled over and shaking in belly aching laughter as Meg looks up at me with a mixture of pain, confusion, and hysteria in a cloud of dust and wood chips.
After a very cramped and very interesting shower in the wet room, we crawl out of the open wooden frame in the wall and out onto the cobblestone path, ready to discover every secret and capture all the pixie dust that oozes from every crevice of this ancient town.
Greek legend tells an ancient tale of a furious Poseidon turning the nymphs into these very Cycladic islands, revengefully trapping their whimsical souls and enticing trickeries into 12 beautiful land masses that he could keep an eye on. If I didn’t know better (and sometimes I’m certain I don’t), I would swear that you could feel the personality and soul of each nymph thumping from beneath the ground of every individual and very different island. All twelve beautiful and unique captured in stone, but Santorini being without a doubt the most seductive and romantic of all. The gem of the Aegean.
“Around every corner …. surprise,” Meg mimics Mimaw’s speech from earlier, “here,” she stretches her arms out and bends at the waist as Mimaw had explaining every picture, bowing as we approach a bend in the road, “surprise.”
The buildings, the marble foot paths, windmills – everything is blindingly florescent white like the other island towns, however Oia is speckled in peach churches and coral corner stores, The town is set miles above on the top of a massive hill, surrounded by water so offensively blue that it hurts our feelings, matching the turquoise blue of the building’s shutters and church steeples. Each narrow road winds in between tall buildings, leaving every upcoming turn and street a surprise until rounded.
“At edge of cliff,” I bend with open arms, “surprise.” The path stops and opens up to the sea at the edge of the cliff; luminescent white buildings tumble down the mountain like a rolling avalanche of snow ready to disappear into the bluest sea I’ve ever seen, hungrily awaiting its approach.
“You go find them all,” Meg echoes Mimaw’s Greek laced English instruction, and we barrel down the treacherous 289 winding stone steps to the beckoning sea, laughing and sliding the whole way without a thought or care for the return journey upwards.