from Chapter OneCafe Tempest: Adventures on a Small Greek Island Barbara Bonfigi

[setting the scene: Sarah, a thirty-something American who lives in London producing theater, has just closed a show and broken up with her boyfriend. She chooses her favorite Greek island for R&R&R (the third R being retsina), and is accompanied there by her good friend Alexandra. As the novel opens they're at Heathrow airport en route to Rhodes.]

No one else's behavior makes any sense.

That's it! The end of a continuous struggle for meaning since the third grade. That's when I took a long look at the Brownie pledge. “On my honor I will try . . .” noble and uplifting; “. . . to God and country . . .” I feel like saluting. But then the ending . . . “especially those at home.” Sappy and rambling. I sent off my rewrite to National Headquarters and told them they could use it gratis—a word I may have misspelled. No reply yet, but you can't expect an organization that sounds like chocolate cake to make snap decisions.

from Chapter ThreeCafe Tempest: Adventures on a Small Greek Island Barbara Bonfigi

From Rhodes we catch a small caique to our destination. The island of Pharos is a cluster of arid volcanic rocks off the Turkish coast, with about two thousand inhabitants not counting cats and goats. I discovered it four years ago in the Classical manner (as in The Odyssey) when the boat I'd chartered with friends pitched up there by mistake It was me on the dog watch, steering by a star, and it set. Just a slight navigational error; slight! We didn't end up in another language.

It doesn't matter that I'll never live it down; I've found my native land. The days are mild, the water warm, the sky an unfiltered blue. Pharians are by nature generous and embracing. Any visitor who makes the slightest attempt to speak their impossible language is practically adopted. Life here is intoxicating in its simplicity. No airport, it's too remote to attract many tour boats, and you'd have to be lost to just drop by. Though its face changes in August. Then the old men desert the tavernas—their backgammon boxes mold under the bar; farmers stop coming to town for an ouzaki; no goat herds trot through the village churning the streets to dust clouds; the fishermen stow their nets and turn their caiques into beach ferries. But this is May. Take a deep breath.

The boat docks just after midnight. Stavros, bent like the new moon, older than Charon, is there to meet us. In these narrow lanes his wooden pushcart is the only means of transporting our stuff, the donkeys having bedded down at sunset. He's happy to see us, his only customers tonight.

"Harika na se dho,” I tell him, a phrase learned over the winter. Until then what I'd thought meant “Happy to see you” was actually “I'm so thrilled to see you I could jump into bed with you right now.” Which may explain my popularity on Pharos.

Stavros hugs me and smiles at Alex. He's not too old to notice the waist-length chestnut hair, dark eyes under darker lashes, the sculpted angles and curves of a workout maven. He steps back, surveys our pile of bags, shakes his head—a Turkish rug dealer agreeing to a ridiculous price.

 “It's no more than last year,” I tell him.

“But me, I'm a year older.” His crow-bright laughter echoes across the shuttered port.

A boy appears from the moonshadow of the street lamp and picks up a suitcase.

Costas, my nephew.” He's twelve or thirteen, lean and wiry with dark hair and darker eyes, stooping to be invisible. I'm looking at Stavros, how many years before, waiting for his life to begin. Will he leave as Stavros never did, as eager to be gone from here as we are to arrive?

“Welcome,” he whispers, eyes down.

We set off under a black sky pricked with stars. The streets are narrow, lit by a half-moon falling on high whitewashed walls. As we climb out of the port to Kastro they taper to twisting passages no wider than Stavros's cart. We fall in behind, silent, listening to the dogs calling, the night birds, the tinny carillon of goat bells in the valley. I'm thrilled by the stillness, the sharp nightlines, the soft jasmine air. Below us the sea suddenly appears, a skein of rough silk.

“Look,” says Alex, her voice husky with amazement. Far below now, our ferry is rounding the tip of the harbor, its wake a fan of diminishing pleats scattering the moonlight.

Illustrations by Gaia Franchetti

Classic Greek Recipes remastered by Ana Espinosa

Readers guide in the paperback edition

Cafe Tempest: Adventures on a Small Greek Island Barbara Bonfigli