Day Six: Santorini
“We have one,” the woman says, when we inquire as to whether the rental car agency has a vehicle with automatic transmission, “and we will bring it to the hotel.” We pack bottles of water, sunscreen, sunglasses, reading materials, and bananas—which have never looked more out of place than they do in the Greek Islands. Minutes later, we’re off, headed down to the southern end of the island, to see the ruins at Akrotiri. They are closed for the year, some kind of archeological work that is too sensitive for roving tourists. So, we sit under an umbrella and stare out at the ocean. I commit a grave sin, and strike up a brief, lively friendship with one of the street dogs—everyone stares. The local bus arrives, and people pour out of it, carrying beach towels, bags, chairs. We watch them walk over the rocks, along the shore, and over the hill in the distance, to the beach.
Red Beach is so-called because of the volcanic mud that makes up the high cliffs. The beach is short, and not crowded, all tourists from around Europe. We stretch out on our towels. I plug my headphones into my ears, and crank up a Kaki King bootleg. A while later, it’s hot, and I get up go dip myself into the salty sea. The water is cold, but soon I’m comfortable, waving back to Kip on the beach. There is some kind of feathery, papery stuff in the water, maybe some kind of seaweed, and later I find my pockets filled with it. We lay there a while longer, baking, sweating, feeling good.
A pack of Australians, fifteen or so, perhaps two or three families, come walking down the beach, headed back to the parking area. Among them, is a shirtless young man, maybe twenty or twenty-one years old, barefoot, the hair on his arms and head bleached by the long hours in the sun. He finds something interesting in the cliffs above me, and standing only about six feet away, pulls his camera out of his pocket to take a picture. He lifts his arms up, stretching the full length of his body upward, the slope of his hipbone slips out of the top of his wet shorts, the patch of hair in his armpits darker, a tuft of fur dipping down from his navel, disappearing into his waistband. For a moment I’m dizzy, lost in the body of this gorgeous, splendid creature.
We drive through the winding roads of the island, never quite getting lost as much as re-thinking the route—you can basically see every in every direction at any time, so the map quickly becomes unnecessary. At Kamari, we eat lunch, peeking into more souvenir shops, watching couples cuddling each other on the beach. Then we drive the full length of the island, along a stretch of slightly treacherous-feeling road, to the northern tip, to the town of Oia. There, we park, take pictures, stroll down the walkways. I decide that my parents should take a vacation here, and pick out the hotel I think I’ll make them choose.
A few weeks prior, my friend Josh told me that we had to eat and stay at the Windmills in Oia. “It was one of the most romantic places I’ve ever been,” he said. He implored me, begged me to go, with a kind of serious desperation, holding onto me when he said it. I felt charged with whatever had happened to him there, whatever deep and meaningful things he encountered, as if my ability to re-create those same encounters was crucial to confirming that Josh’s experience had been real.
We didn’t find them, and I haven’t told him.