This is now my 4th day of being in Itaki, Greece and the first chance I have had to sit down and reflect on my first impressions.
I was being met at the airport by Makis, who I had assumed was the vegetable man in Kefalonia, that Ingrid had mentioned a few times. He was holding a placard with my name on, something I’ve always longed for when I’ve got to an airport, so now I really do feel I’ve made it! I did my intensive Greek course only a month ago, and can barely remember the word for ‘hello’. Anyway on the drive over I thought I would be proactive by asking Makis about his farm and what vegetables were currently in season… I thought this may score points with my new boss and also wanted to have an idea for my menu.. Makis was a bit vague, so at the end of the trip I asked him again whether he could tell me about the vegetables before I went off to the retreat.. Makis suggested we speak tomorrow… Well after meeting Ingrid (we recognised each other instantly from our various skype chats) I relayed my discussions with Makis and she informed me that he was not in fact ‘vegetable Makis’, but just ‘taxi Makis’ and in fact there are several different Makis who she does business with.. So my first interaction with a proper Greek, and he thinks I’m this strange English girls, quizzing him about his vegetables. He did pretty well to go along with the conversation regardless. When Ingrid later told him I’d confused him with vegetable Makis, he said he didn’t realise and just thought I was making conversation!
Arriving at the retreat, it is in fact more beautiful than the photos suggest. I am staying in my own little traditional Greek house 10 minutes from the retreat, which is kind of a retreat from the retreat. I have a terrrace and roof terrace
and this is the view from my bedroom window which I can see whilst lying in bed! I seem to also have my own private beach which is just 5 minutes down a stoney cobwebbed (I assume because it’s never used) path.
I have so far come into contact with only about 6 people (the retreats haven’t started yet). Most of my interactions have been animal related (apart from of course where food is concerned). Each day I have to contend with the neighbour’s dog barking and chasing me up the road and the various goats, sheep and chickens standing in my path ..
The first encounter with my neighbour was to pass on a message to Ingrid to stop her dog, Olympia from chasing his chickens everyday… Every evening Olympia now has to be tied up so that she doesn’t follow me home and create havoc over here.. She’s clearly taken a liking to me.. I was having a Thai yoga massage (highly recommend!) and the dog decides to lie down in front of me (waiting her turn I guess). I was wondering how the massage therapist was able to massage my back at the same time as my feet, when she started laughing because it was in fact the dog licking my feet (funny I couldn’t seem to tell the difference between the touch of a human hand and a dog’s tongue-clearly it’s been a while!).
There are few cars (or houses) here and the nearest shops are in Vathy (a 15 minute drive away). I have simply the noise of the trees in the breeze and the bells from the goats. My 10 minute walk to work is along the cliff tops overlooking the stunning shore. It is of course a complete contrast and culture shock having lived in a big city for the past 7 years, and is going to take some getting used to… You see already I am having to find entertainment from my stories about the local animals and the different Makis!
Ingrid is somewhat an intimidatingly talented and successful woman. She designed the whole retreat herself, makes her own face creams, olive oil (from the olive trees she grows), marmalade (she seems more the chef than me) the clothes rail in my room she carved out of a branch, teaches yoga (which I can take part in). She also has extremely high standards and so each dish has to be made to perfection (and rightly so since it is a fancy yoga retreat) and she does not hesitate in telling me if something is not to her liking (great in a way as there’s nothing like honest feedback). Although the retreats haven’t started yet, I have been experimenting in the kitchen.. After a few mishaps (such as not reading the manual of the ice-cream maker before using), dishes which have been a success have included tomatoes stuffed with halloumi, swiss chard in cream sauce, grilled polenta, chocolate cherry brownies (made for the arrival of the first guests today) and lemon sorbet.. Today is my first day of proper work and I am feeling excited, but slightly anxious….