BY DEMETRI RAFTOPOULOS
I forgot my notebook.
It’s 5:30 in the morning and most of Thassos is still sleeping. The sun is hidden behind a couple moon colored clouds, just like the rest of the writing cohort behind their closed bedroom doors at Archodissa. I walk back past the kitchen and up the stairs towards the courtyard where the basil and oregano that is sprinkled into our dishes grows. A group of off-white stray cats lay spread out next to the garden. Their eyes are closed too.
I walk up to the balcony and reach my room. Clothes hanging to dry snap softly on a line extending the length of the balcony. I barge in and retrieve the small beige felt journal resting on my nightstand. My feet crunch against the sand I drag in from the beach every day, and close the door behind me, now ready to open my notebook on a boat that will sail through the Aegean.
Spending a month in Greece, that same notebook was next to me as much as bread was with tzatziki. With me at all times like uncertainty throughout the Greek government. Simple chance brought us together. A good friend gave it to me before leaving and if it wasn’t for him, I would have never clicked down on a pen. I would have never built another relationship alongside all the others formed around me with the clanking of glasses that month.
The notebook became my traveling companion. In a new environment, with new people, I felt safe with it. But I was also in constant need to protect it. So much so that instead of spending my last morning in Thassos on the beach, I sat at the restaurant and transcribed everything I had filled it with onto my laptop, in case something unfortunate occurred. I needed to know where it was always, the few times it wasn’t tucked into my back pocket or open in my hands. It was a friend that always gave, no matter how much I took and took and took.
I wasn’t a hand-writer. But in Greece, I became one.
The water looks dark, like the tip of a sharpened pencil. I grip the blue siding of the boat the way I grip my notebook. We move slowly, a pattern of tiny ripples follow us to the fishing trap Stamatis set last night, but the boat still rocks with the unsteadiness of the water. Stamatis is a fisherman, captain of the Evanthoula, and owner of Archodissa. He stands behind me clutching onto a small metallic wheel that sticks out from above the compartment like his worn-out overalls do over his blue polo. Greek music plays from a speaker next to the wheel and we pick up speed.
“S’Agapo pou eisai oreia,” Stamatis shouts, adjusting a strap falling off his shoulder. “I love you because you’re beautiful,” I repeat to myself, taking a seat on the ledge in front of him.
I wonder if he is singing to the sea, I write in my notebook. The swaying of the boat darts my pen upward and downward. Or if he is singing to his wife, Eva. The word ‘singing’ comes out the sloppiest but I can still read it. I use my thigh as a desk and rest the notebook right above my knee AKIMBO. It’s chilly this morning and the Aegean breeze whispers across my exposed head. I pull my hood up and continue writing.
This is his life: setting traps at night to pick them up in the morning. Sleep irrelevant. And whatever the sea offers him this morning, he will still be singing. Whatever the headlines say about his home’s economy, he will still be fishing.
I flip back to earlier pages in my notebook and admire how much I have already written only into the second week of this month-long writing residency. The pages are filled with sloppily written words as if I wrote them descending King Da Ka at Six Flags but my words are there, nonetheless, engraved into each sheet.
Light begins to creep out from behind the mountain to our left, as if rising like beer poured slowly into a mug.
Stamatis is still singing. His words hit me like the morning wind but stay and land on my page instead.
The captain continues to serenade his home, his sea. He knows these waters better than the fish that swim in them. The boat moves with ease and the music blasts louder. Stamatis is Thassos’ alarm clock. The snake charmer for the sun. The dry entertainment above for those living below. He could be trying to mask the harsh sound of the Evanthoula’s engine. Provide the sea with comfort instead of impending potential capture. Or he could just love the music his favorite singers produce. It could be his constant cheery nature. That he wishes to celebrate his life instead of worry about it.
I click the end of the pen and place it in my notebook’s crease so I can stand for the sunrise. I leave the notebook closed on the ledge and face the mountain, watching it give birth to the sun. The curved arc appears first and the morning already begins to warm. I remove my hood and look back toward the notebook, tempted, but keep my eyes focused on the slowly rising sun.
This will sound a bit silly but my notebook isn’t demanding or needy. Yes, I may write in it constantly but the notebook has also allowed me to live my life separately, away from it’s pages and soft jacket cover. To admire what’s around me alone, and then share the moment with it afterward. To truly capture a moment before putting my head down. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sharing. But I enjoy being able to experience something on my own first and then sharing it with others. With my notebook.
The sun is halfway through its entrance and I return to my ledge. I watch the day brighten a little more before opening the notebook again.
“Ti graphis?” Stamatis asks loudly, touching the brim of his blue hat, and then resumes his song. "What are you writing?"
I turn to face him. “Kati yia sena,” I tell him. He smiles and his graying goatie does too. "Something about you."
An orange buoy appears, softly twirling in the water like the final spins of a quarter. The engine and speaker both soften and the boat inches towards its marker.
Stamatis’ beard resembles my father’s, as does his work ethic. I’ve been to Greece before but it’s been seven years since I’ve experienced that sunrise from the blue of the Aegean. With someone like Stamatis, a patriotic man, doing all he can to keep his business and world afloat. The water doesn’t have a rank smell attached to it, like the beaches on Long Island. If anything, it smells like promise. Greece is constantly on display, shackled in the courtyard of Europe for everyone to poke at. It isn’t hidden like that which swims beneath us. Hopefully Stamati will reveal some of his hard work when he pulls up the trap.
In the past, I don’t know how I would have recorded all this. With my phone? Hope to remember as much of it with my fleeting memory? Fleeting, like my presence in Greece. It’s impossible to remember every detail but with this notebook at my side, I’ve been attempting to. Whatever I don’t remember or don’t see, I’ll write into my notebook the next time I’m here. And whatever I forget will be kept alive.
The orange buoy is now at arms reach and the boat slows even more. A couple of seagulls are awake now too, circling the boat for whatever we throw back, if anything. The sun is now completely over the mountain and shines on the rest of the waking Thassos. This is when Stamati will begin to reel in his trap and wait to see what he has caught.
“Re Demetri,” Stamatis says, turning the wheel slightly, “pigene na to piasis para kalo pedaki mou.”
The captain asks me to go pick up the buoy. An honor. He is asking me for assistance, someone who is simply learning in the presence of a master. Stamatis could do all this with one hand covering his eyes and the other flicking worry beads over his fingers. My assistance isn’t paramount to his trip because surely he does this alone. However, he has entrusted me in carrying out a duty that affects the well-being of his family.
I’m still tempted to stay seated and write. To witness something invaluable I could never see elsewhere and fill more pages. Write this scene of him picking up the traps. Write with detail the way each fish looks, how they move, and sound. Describe the definition of Stamatis' aging yet tone muscles flexing with each pull of the trap. How his blue shirt matches the water he’s pulling fish out of. How the mechanized pulley reeling in the trap sounds alongside the rest of the emptiness we are surrounded by.
Instead, I leave the next page blank. I close my notebook, stand, walk to the front of the boat, and reach for the buoy.