this is a musing takeover of the blog by mike, since there hasn’t been much chance to cook while we uproot from syros and stumble around a few more airports and countries. as we put syros behind us, i was thinking a lot about bones. the globestumbler and i saw bones in many forms traveling this island. our first look at syros was the northern tip, a barren spine rising up out of the aegean to make peaks of vertebrae. it took some time to grow on us. we had come to the island with little foreknowledge about how it was supposed to look. those mountains really were the backbone of syros, and they became the roots of our stories here. there was no bus ride that didn’t require a trip along their mineralized paths, and the worn-down bits of greenschist were the perfect skipping stones on the beach of ambela.
around the beach of ambela were the skeletons of houses, houses that were being built until the financial crisis stopped construction at various stages. along the hills, the initial concrete limbs of buildings rose out of the flaky layers of stone. they seem to take after the scuffed limestone of the temple of olympian zeus. the skeletons taught me the steps of constructing the beautiful white box houses that are a trademark of greece. i saw each step preserved around the island.
the concrete skeletons go up. the gaps are then filled with muscle-like bricks that flex into windows and doorways. then, the walls are covered in a white sea shell. finally the doors and windows are added, along with shutters of such colors one might shiver or shudder at their beauty. on syros, we saw a few of them coming out of fossilization and filling out again with the help of bulldozers and cranes and people at work. i love these bones. how they live.
for a brief week, the globestumbler and i journeyed beyond the shores of syros to the neighboring islands of mykonos and tinos. the morning of our final day on mykonos, she, her father, his wife, and i took our quad-wheelers up the steep mountains on the northwest side of the island to see a lighthouse we were told had the best view of the area. after winding up dirt roads that climbed the stony back of the island, we made it to the outer wall of the lighthouse. we were stopped there by a man in military fatigues. the lighthouse was under construction.
all around the lighthouse sat spectacular views of the aegean, tinos, rineia, delos, and syros. meanwhile, i was watching the work being done. three men were climbing the exoskeleton of the one hundred twenty four year old building. there was scaffolding covering the top, and they were patching areas that had become unstable. this was hardly the first structure we had seen with its bones on the outside while it was being rebuilt. the tower of the winds in the roman agora, the parthenon… many buildings in greece (at least in our off-season visit) were being renovated. a lot of effort was being spent on the older bones to keep them in the temporal space they originated from. the exoskeletons were there to explain the process of restoration.
the opportunity to get past the cortex and to see into the core of greece has been delightful. after a month here, we feel we’re doing more living than vacationing. it’s the same as coming into someone’s house when they’re getting ready for visitors, but aren’t quite ready yet. you get to have a glass of wine (with the owner of the ambela tavern as it closed for the season) or beer (with the owner of the nissos brewery while they upgraded the facilities) with the host and see all of the effort that goes into throwing the party.
on the island of tinos, we stuck out a little more than elsewhere. fewer people spoke english and we had to rely more on my halting greek. nevertheless, on a couple occasions it worked well enough to get the message across. during our visit to the nissos brewery, our host thought i was greek because my pronunciation of a greeting and a simple question was particularly good. the illusion crumbled when my vocabulary ran out, however. the next time was in the monastery of kechrovouni. we had stumbled into a beautiful church and were puzzling over a rock in a glass box. the nun who was in the room to hand out candles for prayer approached us and began speaking in rapid greek. i asked as politely as i could that she slow down. with both of us tripping on our words, she indicated to me that the item in the box was a “kefali” –a head. and gesturing to the gold leaf portrait on the wall, she gave the name “pelaghia.” we learned we had been closely observing a skull from above. the skull was a receptacle of the story of its saint and the icon she uncovered. it was about that time i became aware of how prevalent bones had been in our recent living. it was like the realization of a child that there are bones within her, that she is made of bones. in that moment i remembered that under the clothes, paint-coats, skin, concrete, and muscle, there were bones everywhere in the landscapes and churches and bodies we were living in.
the globestumbler and i both have feet that are different than what podiatrists
would call ‘normal.’ her feet have arches that rival the lofty buttresses of european cathedrals. they’re scaffolded with screws and plates to keep the metatarsals supported. my feet spread out wide enough to destroy a pair of boots in three months of continuous use. the human body has about 270 bones at birth that later fuse into an average of 206. some of the globestumbler’s bones have been fused further with the hope of making them more stable. i have a few extra bones, which is why my feet are so wide. there are bones under the big toe that stabilize the foot, but i have a bonus pair of them by my pinky toes. there are bones everywhere when you stop and think: in mountains, in boxes, and in people. the bones carry stories with them and on them. all of these bones, outside and inside, tell stories about the world they drew from to grow and the world they continue to exist in as relics.
in the world of dungeons and dragons (at least, the early editions), there are many spells that require bone as a material component. bones are used to commune with a character’s deity, to grow, to summon a guardian, and to regenerate. the living bone of a creature is something that carries the spirit in the game’s magical conception of reality. if i thought it would imbue me with the essence of this island, offer me instant return, or bolster my flagging memory, i would inscribe the name of syros into my bones. as it stands, i’ve been gifted a bit of the bone-white marble of the island i will carry into the skeletons of all my future homes to remember the living bones of the cyclades.