Skala Kaloni-Sardeles Pastes

We plan to leave today but with Pamela needing our help to pick up hinges and tiles from Kaloni we realize that going will only complicate matters. So despite the fact that Andrea has not had a good night's rest since we arrived in Yaya Stasi's terrible house, we decide to stay one more night. When we get to Kaloni it's like another world. The main street is full of auto and pedestrian traffic. Shops are open and the cafe's are full. While Pam, Andrea and Amarandi go about their business I search the market area for a fresh fish store that with any luck will have sardelles pastes. There are two shops but they are both closed. Apparently they open very early and close whenever they run out of fish. I am disappointed but still wander around the town thankful for level ground beneath my feet. Kaloni is built in an enormous valley that was once part of the bay of Kaloni. Unlike the traditional mountain villages, anything goes here architecturally and the town is a complex of modern apartment buildings crammed in between old stone houses and tumble down huts. Traffic is chaotic. It is the central village for this part of the island and has a city like feel to it. I run into the girls again on their way to a hardware store and I take Amarandi off their hands and to a park where she has me push her on every swing because each is in the shape of a different creature. She lets me escape to a cafeneon next door where I have a Turkish coffee but when she rejoins me, she spills it while helping me try to assemble a plastic robot Pamela has bought her. I'm noticing the people passing by. The girls are very pretty and in style. There are lots of soldiers who have come for supplies. There's a man who sells cheese pies from a cart mounted on bicycle wheels which he has parked outside the cafeneon while he goes in for a drink with his friends. A man stops his car in the middle of the street while he stands at the cart waiting for the proprietor to come serve him. This causes a minor traffic jam, but nobody really seems to mind. T hey just accept it as the normal course of events, and he does not even acknowledge them as he walks back to his car eating his tiropita. To him life is simple. He was driving. He saw something he wanted to eat. He stopped his car and he bought it. He never thought twice about the fact that he was parked in the middle of a busy street and that his tiropita was going to inconvenience other people. They were not his concern. His concern is the tiropita.

Andrea comes to get me and we pick up Pamela and her hardware. While they go back to the tile store I drive to the town of Skala Kalonis, on the bay. It looks like a tourist trap. Post cards, bicycles for rent, and signs in English, but I find an old fish restaurant that might have possibilities. I return to Kaloni to pick up the girls but on the way pass a beach full of umbrellas and fat German tourists in bikini's. Opposite the beach is a hotel with a swimming pool full of men whose bellies hide the fact that they are actually wearing bathing suits. The place starts to horrify me and I begin thinking of alternatives to Skala Kaloni. Maybe a trip to Skala Polichnitou across the bay. Andrea and I had incredible sardines there a year ago. I look at the map but it appears to be a long way off. Parakila seems like a better bet. I know there is at least one restaurant on the bay because we had gotten ripped off there last year. Maybe there is another, or maybe they've changed owners and we can get a decent meal a nd maybe even some sardelles. Anything but going back to Skala Kaloni which I am convinced has been hopelesly lost to the tourists.

But I can't resist taking the girls there to show them what the town looks like. The second time through I am less put off by it and the Medusa Taverna looks like it has possibilities. Pam says that if we don't eat now we could spend the rest of the afternoon looking for a decent restaurant. She volunteers to go in and check out the menu and comes back all smiles.

"It looks really good and they even have sardines!" We can't get out of the car fast enough. In the refridgerated glass case we see two trays overflowing with fresh sardines' plus a variety of other fish. We are so excited we can hardly wait to order. Then as I am gazing into the kitchen I see on the table a container of what looks like sardelles pastes. I ask the young owner.

"Of course we have sardelles pastes", he assures me. I order a plate full and a bottle of ouzo. We also order two plates of fried sardines, a stuffed zucchini flower and beets with garlic sauce.

They bring the ouzo first, a small bottle of Mini, with a bowl of ice, some bread and four glasses of cold water. I pour the ouzo but control myself waiting for the sardeles pastes. I am rewarded for my patience when they arrive at our table already peeled. I am surprised that they are not in oil or seasoned but I assume that perhaps this is the custom in Kaloni. No embellishements. Just plain raw sardines. This is the moment I have been waiting for and I sip my first ouzo in preparation. I take a small sardine by the tail, but stop short. I have forgotten. Do I eat the whole fish or do I pull it between half closed teeth, leaving the meat in my mouth and pulling out the tiny fish sketeton. I can feel the pressure mounting as everyone awaits my move. Even the foreign couple at the next table have taken an interest. I can feel my heart beating and the blood rushing in my ears.

"This is it", I tell myself and eat the whole fish, bones and all.

It's sad how earthly pleasures can never live up to the desires that drive you towards them. I suppose that is the motivation for a life of the spirit, the belief that God or self knowledge is the only thing that will ultimately satisfy. All other goals and desires will end in dissapointment. This is how I feel as I eat the first sardine and look woefully at the whole plateful before me. If they don't taste any better then this it will indeed be a long journey. The setting is perfect: the large bay, surrounded by green mountains, with the small fishing boats which had brought in these very fish this morning, bobbing gently in the small harbor before us. What had gone wrong? I eat another, but still no beating of angels wings or trumpets from heaven. Andrea smiles with enjoyment but I can tell it's not a smile from the depths of her soul, but one with a touch of sadness. A smile that says she is happy because I am happy but she's not that happy because these are not that great. I smile back weakly, not wishing to shatter her fragile happiness. Several cats have begun prowling the perifiry of our table, like demons come to taunt us for our fruitless love of the flesh. I sacrifce one of the precious fish and give it to Amarandi to feed to one of the cats, but it turns up it's nose and looks at us with undisguised amusement. By now the other food has arrived and is truly delicious. I use it as a reward everytime I have eaten a sardine, and it seems to work. in a few minutes my plate is littered with tiny sardine tails. Finally there is one left. I take a small sip of ouzo, leaving one mouthful left in the glass. Picking up the final sardelles pastes I put it to my lips, and slowly eat it down to the tail. Then I wash it down with the last of my ouzo. It's delicious! That last morsel was everything I had hoped it would be, like the unexplainable sweetness in that last bite of an ice-cream sundae. Either the aura of sardelles pastes was completely psychological or I had been eating them incorrectly. I try to review the previous bites to see what I had done wrong. It must have something to do with the little ouzo ceremony I did for that last sardine, I am convinced. Once again I am caught in it's spell and I go into the restaurant to bargain with the woman in the kitchen. I must have more. How much will she sell me? She tells me to come back in an hour. I spend the time on the end of the dock looking out across the bay of Kaloni.

"How many sardines are out there?" I wonder. the sea is surprisingly rough for such a closed area. I turn towards the inner harbor and look at the fishingboats, all ten to fifteen feet long and brightly colored, their nets piled on the decks. How exciting it must be when they come into port each morning full of sardines. I imagine their sailors calling out their prices to the people on the shore. Then my eyes fall upon a very strange boat. In design it is like all the others, traditional Greek kaiki, except instead of the simple colorful painted hull, this boat is painted like an African disco. On one side of the bow is a stange mask where it's name should be. On the small cabin is written 'Peace', and the designs are wild and zigzagged. It is the only un-uniform boat in the entire Kaloni sardine fleet and I wonder about it's captain. Is he a black African who has made his home here and been accepted by the locals? Unlikely. More likely he is a free-spirited young man, probably concidered crazy by the other f ishermen, with a taste for reggae or African pop. But it's as strange a sight here as John Lennons psychedelic Rolls Royce must have been to London in the sixties.

When I return to the restaurant the woman gives me a container of pastes. She charges me a thousand drachma.

"Do you know why our sardelles are so good?" she asks me. "Because they are full of phospherous. The Doctors of the island prescribe them for children who have trouble seeing at night." This sounds reasonable. More so then the olive oil washing into the bay story. I thank her and put my precious cargo in the car.

We decide to explore this part of the island. we will drive as far as the mountain village of Agra where there is supposedly a road to Xidera. I can just imagine this road and what it will do to our car but I go along with the plan knowing that we can always turn back. On the way we stop in the tiny village of Apothikes, at the mouth of the bay. The landscape is as barren as the moon. "This terrain could be described as 'maddening'", says Andrea. We stop at a tiny pier where some fishermen are readying their boat to take out into the bay or the sea. There is nothing here but a few houses, some deserted warehouses and some chickens, but Andrea wants to get the business card of a place that offers rooms for rent. "There's a great cafeneon here", she says to convince me, but it will take more then a great cafeneon to get me to stay here. There is nothing to do but look at the sea. Pamela hasn't even left the car. She sits in the back seat reading the USA Today.

We continue our journey cutting inland and climbing until we see Agra high above us. It's a large village next to a pine forest but there is no sign for Xidera so we continue on the paved road to Mesotopos. Here the pavement ends and we bounce our way along a dirt road, through small fertile valleys and scattered farms until we start seeing female couples, on foot, in cars and on motorbikes, a sure sign that we are approaching Erressos. When we get there Pamela is unimpressed. We drive through the big valley and finally join up with the main road between upper Erressos and Skala. We park at the beach, but Amarandi has fallen asleep and Pamela refuses to leave the car. Andrea and I swim by ourselves. The waves are not as big as yesterday and the sea is warmer and refreshing. By the time we get out of the water I am a new man and ready for our next adventure, but everyone else wants to go home. With the sun setting behind us we get back on the mountainous road to Vatoussa.

When we get back to Xidera I can hardly wait to bring the sardelles pastes to the two cafeneons where we have been spending all of our time. I bring the container into Thanasis and put half of them on a plate, then give the rest to Avglaia. They both begin peeling them and soon every table has a plate in on it. Thanasis has taken each fish by the tail and torn it down the middle, then covered them in oil. Aglaia has covered hers in oil too but has not torn them and of the two methods of serving them we find hers to be the most delicious. We discover two very important things about sardelles pastes. The first is that they are much better seasoned with oil, salt and pepper and whatever else appeals to your taste. The other is that they are much better if you don't eat the bones.

As we leave, the old men in both cafeneons toast me. "Bravo Matheos. Congratulations. You are truly a hero. These are very good sardeles pastes." For the first time I sleep through the night and don't have to get up to go to the bathroom once.