Ok, so I lied about the bit about my mother being a virgin. By the time I was born, I was already the proud owner of two older brothers and a sister, and it all began, at least in my case, at The Star Hotel in Greece. It was the summer of ‘67 and my parents had fled a war, and a life, in Beirut. En route to England, they enjoyed the charms of a small Greek island and nine months later, out I popped. Fast-forward forty years and here I am, back at the place I begun. Creepy? A little. Paradise? Most definitely.
Spetses is a beautiful island. Five miles across, it is coloured with a thick coating of lime green trees. But the jewel in the crown is the sea and it is a constant canvas of change. All life here revolves around it and in it. Boats come and go ferrying people, cars, animals and food. Fisherman fish. Walk past them and you’ll see a man cutting his catch. 'Out of the sea and into the soup pot', said the fisherman to me as an eel squirmed between his thick fingers and tried to wiggle its way back to the water.
People swim, in the harbour, on the beaches and off rocks. Mostly for pleasure, but often for business. One day I watched two bald men tread water for almost fifty minutes. I couldn’t see their suits but I got the distinct impression that they were cutting a deal. The sea is as good a place as any boardroom.
And me? I was flat on my back in the sand. Did I mention the heat? Oh my, it was hot. Between books, suntan lotion and food, I lay in the sun, soaking it up like a re-chargeable battery, my concentration broken only once, on the day that the charge of the jellyfish occurred. A frisky wind blew these plate sized wine gums into shore. It was like a scene from Jaws. Children were snatched from water and men brandished sticks and paddles.
It was all the funnier the next day when two laughing Greek children plucked one out of the water and balanced it between four pudgy arms under the watchful eye of their mother. Ok, so they’re not poisonous then. The beach heaved a collective sigh of relief. With a shade of embarrassment thrown in.
Day melted into equally hot nights and I occasionally allowed myself to be entertained by the antics of a middle-aged fisherman called Lakis Spiliotis.
‘Are you a Frenchman?’ I asked one evening. He was wearing a blue and white striped top with a black beret at the time. ‘No’, he said. ‘I am a fisherman. I just like to dress up is all.’
‘What are you coming as tomorrow night?’ I asked.
‘A cowboy’, he said. And he did. Here you will have to insert your own mental picture of a grizzly fifty-six year old man wearing a Stetson and blue jeans tucked into a pair of cowboy boots. It was every bit as comical as you might think.
By this point I had already been made an honoury Spetsian due to the story of my humble beginnings on the island. ‘You should go and see the owner of The Star Hotel’, said Lakis, one night. ‘It’s still the same guy who owned it in ‘67. But take your family with you. Lefteris is seventy-five but he’ll still try to make flirt with you’. He laughed a laugh as dirty as dishwater but on my last night I did just that, and it was a showstopper.
‘Are you Lefteris?’ I asked. It couldn’t be anyone else. I knew exactly who he was before I even asked the question. He may have been the owner of a hotel but he looked like the captain of the ship. I held out my hand and introduced myself. ‘I’m Kate’, I said. I couldn’t think how else to explain what I wanted to say, so I just came out with it.
‘My parents conceived me in your hotel in the summer of ‘67.’
The jaw of the American businessman to his left dropped open. ‘Bo, bo, bo, bo, bo, bo, bo,’ Lefteris kept saying to himself, or to anyone else who would listen as he shook his hands back and forth in rhyme to his voice. He grinned from ear to ear, grabbed my arm and led me to a chair. He wanted to know all the details. Not that I could furnish him with anything but raw facts. I hadn’t been there, but I was now, the three dimensional evidence of my parents union at the Star Hotel in Spetses.
We sat and drank as the sun went down and Lefteris told me about the sausage shaped aircraft that used to transport water to the island in the sixties. They may have been surrounded by the stuff, but it wasn’t for drinking. Stavros Niarchos, the shipping magnate, paid for pipes so that the whole island could enjoy the free flow of fresh water in their homes. We talked about hotel life, package customers versus private and the summer tourist trade. We talked about people, passions and about how life on a tiny Greek island has grown up and changed over the past forty years. He didn’t try to make flirt with me, but the twinkle in his eye was plain to see.
In a curious confluence of time and symbols, the next day, I noticed the passenger boat that docks every single morning in the harbour by the hotel. It’s name?