I have just spent the last couple of hours sitting in a little taverna, ‘ταβέρνα’ in Greek, by the side of what passes for a roundabout, here in the little village of Pastida on the island of Rhodes.
Watching the everyday lives of the locals as they pass back and forth across my line of vision is both relaxing and informative; I find it a great way to discover the nature of the people on this beautiful island. A wonderful simplistic way to pass several leisurely hours under the hot summer sun, enjoying a visual spectacle of shimmering ballet, of tranquil living, enviable in its simplicity. A reminder of those lost but more important and innocent times from my childhood, when the world was slower, more simplistic and carefree. A bygone age when motor cars were a rarity and streets were pristine clean and places of social interaction for all generations.
The lives of the locals here appear so much less complicated and stressful than those of our friends and neighbours back home; nobody seems to be in a hurry to get anywhere fast and each person appears to take pleasure from the slower pace of life. Almost everyone spends quality time together, greeting and sharing news with each other; a symphony of communication that nothing and nobody can halt. Age is irrelevant as excited chatter crosses all generations, both young and old greet each other to share and exchange news. No-one is rushing off to catch buses, or racing about like a mad person on a supermarket shopping spree; nobody is living their lives at breakneck speed, just a community living in harmony with each other. Everybody seemingly has a myriad of things to share with each other, and afford themselves the time to enjoy the moment seemingly with neither cares nor distraction. The subdued chatter coming from all directions does little more than slightly disturb the air in the heat of the midday sun, adding to the relaxed atmosphere. The atmosphere around the square is both electric and active, yet overlying it all is a tangible serene calmness; a contradiction of terms, an anomaly of time. Hard to describe and difficult to understand.
Unlike numerous other destinations across Europe where I’ve had the pleasure of spending my holiday time, here in Pasteda nobody is out to sell me anything, nobody is calling out to inform me their goods are cheaper than Asda nor trying to convince me I need another piece of cheap tat to cart back home. Those types of establishments don’t exist on these quaint homely street. The nearby cool bakery, a wonderful visual display of creative culinary delights, needs no aggressive spiel, no persuasion to buy. The delights in the welcoming window speaks silently for itself. Further along a couple of headscarved women clutching their wicker baskets, wait patiently in the queue at the butcher’s shop. Their amused laughter drifts out into the heat of the day, slowly melting and joining the cacophony of sounds already swirling around me. There are no cross-words, no raised voices, just friendly banter, friendly chatter.
Approaching another taverna on our walk across the street, we are greeted like long-lost friends, welcome to sit awhile in the shade out of the heat. No pressure on us to purchase anything, just the offer of a seat, a place to rest in the heat of the day, with the option to call on the owner if drink or food is needed.
I am fascinated by the laid-back attitude of the vehicle drivers who pass-by, each of them intent on undertaking their little adventures and journeys, slowly but surely reaching their destinations for the day. Various vehicles pass effortlessly around each other in what can only be described as a carefully choreographed fairy-tale ballet, the noise of the traffic background music, ensuring the effortlessly movement of the vehicles. Little heed is paid to the blue arrows on what proudly passes for a roundabout, primarily ordering vehicles to drive to the right, but passed unseen or regarded as unimportant as the flow of cars is reversed to assist the passage of large vehicles. The cars, vans and wagons, and a variety of other vehicles stop ad-hoc and greetings and handshakes are shared with pedestrians. A scooter gracefully glides across the junction in the wrong direction. But nobody pays any attention, nobody gets upset or raises a voice.
No complains or comments: Everyone is too relaxed to criticise anyone else. They just take things as they come. Children sit proudly and without fear on the knees of elder relatives on aged scooters, or in the front seats of cars without thought for seat belts or over-crowding.
I am intrigued by the odd behaviour of an elderly man who has been loitering for a good twenty minutes in the centre of the road. He occasionally leaning on the wrought iron railings that wrap around the metal barrel that passes for a roundabout, presumably to ease the strain of standing so long. Cars continue to glide past, waving to him as they cross his path. At one point I think to myself, maybe he is the traffic warden, if such people exist in this island that time forgot. But that premise is proven false as I see him wandering leisurely across to the taverna opposite. He chats with the owner of the establishment for a couple of minutes before again taking up his post in the centre of the village square. Eventually, an old but serviceable car pulls up to a stop on the roundabout, next to the man who then climbs into the passenger seat of the vehicle before he, and it, motor off along the road.
Patience is definitely the order of the day. During the time I have been sitting here watching I have only once heard the beeping of a horn and that was when a huge coach blocked the narrow road it was attempting to enter. All the other vehicles had to reverse and pull into wherever space they could find to allow the bus access across the
square. The solitary beep came from a lady, not in anger or frustration, but as a warning to oncoming traffic approaching the town square was there was a blockage round the corner. Incredibly, the traffic jam didn’t completely halt progress, bikes, scooters and motorbikes continued to weave in and out of the stationary vehicles carrying smiling drivers on the their way.
Despite what appears to be the haphazard attitude of the drivers, there is no element of danger apparent; no officials attempting to direct their seemingly carefree lives. Everyone appears to be taking responsibility for their own actions, apologising when they get to close when passing each other.
Slowly the gender of the people of the square change. There are virtually no women left to be seen, to be replaced by much older men, presumably grandparents, riding their Vespas across the square from all directions before disappearing down a side street: only to return shortly afterwards with young school aged children perched precariously on the knees of the scooter drivers. Older children both male and female walk arm in arm on their way to destinations unknown; no squabbling, pushing or shoving, no cross words shared just innocent camaraderie.
A sudden influx of traffic fills the square, in what appears to be a uniformed raid on the town. Car after car travels the street opposite where I am sitting, vehicles filled and driven by men in uniforms. Policemen or army personnel changing shifts at what I presume is a nearby base. But the invasion is short-lived. As fast as it started the onslaught ends and order is once again restored.