by Evripidis Sabatis
A journal of failed and successful attempts to climb the top of Anafi’s gigantic rock and spend the night at the monastery among the clouds
Mount Kalamos is the second highest rock in the Mediterranean after Gibraltar. It stands on the easternmost part of the island of Anafi in Greece. Its bulk and location make it visible from any part of the island’s southern coast. A small monastery is perched on one of its tips. From there your gaze can sweep over the whole island and the sea. At dawn, after a long night of drinking, smoking, dancing and lovemaking, you can admire the sun rising behind Kalamos. The mountain’s red and yellow hues appear half-hidden in the morning haze. At dusk, its conical shape is the last thing to fade on the horizon. Under a full moon it looms darker than the sky, like a dormant volcano or a huge whale that has raised its head to breathe.
This monolith has always fascinated me. Its shape and its presence – constant and enchanting – regularly haunts my imagination. I have dreamt of it, drawn it, and even climbed it one summer: a grumpy Koala, albeit pleased to get closer than usual to the sky, in the company of a restless Weasel and two friends. I went up thanks to the stubbornness of one of them, who insisted so much that in the end I gave in.
It was the end of August, and we had the strong wind that always blows on Greek islands around that time, a harbinger of a cruel and solitary winter. I was naturally thinking of how dangerous the climb would be. I could picture us on the brink of steep slopes, hundreds of meters high, climbing the narrow, twisting paths that would terrify the most reckless goat, and I shuddered. I was thinking also of my Weasel, so tiny and light, and at night I
had nightmares of the wind making him lose his precarious balance. In my dreams I watched him helplessly, tears in my eyes, as he fell, bouncing off the rocks and finally disappearing forever in the angry sea.
I used all my arguments to stop us from going, but our friend was persistent. Now I am grateful to him because it was a fantastic experience. The climb up the monolith was the best part of that summer; after that it was all downhill, so quickly that it left us as- tounded, knackered and apprehensive about the future. It was as if the wind, strong and inescapable, had caused us to fall.
One year later I returned to the island. Kalamos continued to be the one landmark that drew my gaze more than any other. Life had changed, and this time I did not climb the rock. However, several times a day I would don my headphones and go to the beach, dancing and singing, as loud as my lungs would let me, Orange Juice’s Wan Light, the Weather Prophets’ Can ́t Keep My Mind Off You, Pale Fountains’ Just a Girl and Extraperlo’s Bañadores. At the same time, I would keep up a silent, persistent conversation with my gigantic friend. He seemed to be saying to me “Everything will be alright… I’ll be here till the end of the world.”
The years passed and I returned to Anafi twice more. The first of those times I took another boyfriend, a gorgeous fair Cat with terrible mood swings. Sometimes cute as a button, sometimes fierce as a tiger and sometimes grumpy as an old man. That year I did not even think of climbing up the steep slopes of Kalamos. As
much as I longed to show his terrible beauty to my love and live, at last, the ultimate experience of spending the night on the top of the giant, I knew that it was a bad idea.
My constant fighting with my partner could have turned any sweet dream into a beautiful nightmare. I could see us quarrelling endlessly on the tiresome way to the top, making up, fighting again, then having mind-blowing sex under the stars, fighting again… I could imagine myself staying up all night: a Koala happy to be at such great heights and still full of mixed feelings about where my relationship was leading me, if true love does exist and existential questions that were out of place on a summer vacation.
I wanted to start worrying in September, not in August. Besides, there was always something happening, every night: parties, parties and more parties. Alcohol and cheap thrills and endless conversations with friends lost for a year seemed much more important than a trip to a solemn rock. Nevertheless, I bought many postcards and an A5-sized original photo of the rock. Kalamos was always on my mind.
This summer it was different. I came back to Anafi, as a single man. My relationship had fallen to pieces just a couple of months before but instead of feeling wrecked, I was feeling enlightened. Some of my best friends were on the island, there was this SOUTH thing going on and I told myself that if the world will end in 2012, then FUCK YOU! Summer of 2012 will be the best, because if I spend it moaning and living my own personal rhapsody in blue, no one will ever give it back to me.
Anafi was a like a dear friend that you don’t encounter often but who is always great to hang out with, someone you can trust, someone who can make you laugh your guts out. My oh my, did we have some days of wine and roses there … Rakomelo and Raki seemed to pour from the skies, the food seemed to be served straight from the kitchen of Olympus and sex was in the air. I finally got to put my thoughts about Anafi into shape and realised that it is a kind of Arcadia for me: a small place where all these people that I miss throughout the year gather to celebrate life, love and maybe have an intense fight or two – with a friend, a stranger, or their own self.
As far as the Cyclades are concerned, Santorini may be breathtaking, Serifos and Folegandros may have prettier Choras, Amorgos may be wilder and more impressive, Mykonos may have more beautiful waters of emerald green, Syros might be more elegant, Koufonisi might be easier to walk around, and Kea might be less
dry and more friendly than all of the above, but none of these islands compare to Anafi in terms of finding a shelter from the outside world and living only with the stuff that really matters. And of course, no other island can boast of having a mountain like Kalamos.
This summer I felt it was high time I climbed the rock once more in order to spend the night there. I did so with one of my best friends. Once more I was having my doubts, fearing the wind, the steep path – or missing some good party. My friend almost forced me to do it, and I am glad he did. When we reached the top and saw the sun disappearing behind Santorini, it all made sense. As the night crept in, the Milky Way seemed to engulf us and we spent the hours in our sleeping bags, watching the stars, counting passing planes, looking for UFOs and listening to Frankie Rose, Tamaryn and Beach House, while drinking, eating and talking about the most trivial and most serious stuff, all in good measure. I teased him about the mice that would probably chew on our ears while we slept.
We woke up at dawn, right before the sun came up, and took dozens of pictures, most of them taken at the edge of the void, facing the Aegeon pelagos. ‘Iconic’ and ‘ironic’ pictures that eventually found their way onto every kind of social media. A sign of our times, wtf. While we were descending, we found a t-shirt with the slogan “I recycle men” and we laughed our hearts out. So I may not have spent the night on Kalamos with a lover yet, but I feel I had my chance to bond with the monolith, the one an eighteenth century French scientist described as “the most terrible mountain in the world”.
During my last days on Anafi, I couldn’t keep my eyes off Kalamos: bathed in the yellow and pink colours of dawn, under a cruel sun, fading into dusk or under a haunting August moon. This giant is my friend, the keeper of my dreams and hopes, a place where a melancholic Koala can go and see the world with a kind of perspective and empty his little head from mundane worries. And maybe one day this Koala will spend the night up there clinging onto some lover as if he was the strongest and highest tree trunk in the whole wide world. But that is another story.
Part 1 was originally written in Spanish by Evripidis Sabatis and published in his book El Calamor y otros mitos de la intimidad(Editorial Morsa, 2010). Part 2 was originally written in English by Evripidis Sabatis exclusively for this publication.
Evripidis Sabatis – Kalamos 1,2
pen on paper, 2012 – Courtesy of the artist