Santorini, one of the most beautiful islands on this planet. A Greek landmass listed as one of the places to visit before you die. And it’s true, you shouldn’t die without having walked the streets of Santorini.
The island is deserted during the winter months and because of a combination of freezing temperatures and complete absence of tourists, the ferry service from mainland to the island, attractions, hotels, and restaurants all close down. A fact that I’m sure is pointed out on travel guides and brochures, exactly the sort of thing we never buy beforehand. Maybe for this very reason, we ended up staying in a hotel located, not in the scenic Santorini I had on my mind with picture perfect spots, blue domed-churches, quaint white Mediterranean houses, flowers in every imaginable color, and the sapphire waters of the Aegean Sea, but in the opposite side of the island. Don’t take me wrong, it was picturesque yes, but not the white and blue island baking under the sun I had dreamed about.
The place is called Oia, a corner of the island carved out of the cliffs. Oia is a 1.2 mile-long scenic village of pure white buildings, cave houses, blue-roofed churches with cupolas, narrow passageways, traditional Cycladic architecture and the most outrageous sunsets. One of the most recognizable buildings in the village is the windmill, a place shown in a few scenes in the movies “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” and “Lara Croft Tomb Raider.” However, to me, the windmill was the most memorable part of the village for a different reason.
I was with my husband, right by the windmill, when we crossed paths with an older man. He might’ve had a salt-and-pepper beard, maybe long hair, sad eyes, trembling hands. I don’t know. I don’t remember what he looked like, but I remember why he was in Oia: to spread someone’s ashes. Someone he loved. Someone who loved him and Oia. Like the end of a love triangle. And the man told us all of this after exchanging pleasantries, as if the weight of the ashes were too much for him to bear alone. So he shared the weight of his loss with us, by the windmill, in this impossibly beautiful spot overlooking the Aegean waters. On this day, the sun shone timidly at dawn, but by dusk, the skies took on a flamboyant hue of blue. I squeezed my husband’s hand as the man told us about the ashes. The thought of a life without my partner made the windmill seem wider, taller, incomprehensible. My eyes teared in the December wind as we said goodbye to the man.
And here I am now, trying to remember who the man had lost: a partner, a friend, a lover, a child. Was it a woman or a man? Had he already spread the ashes when our paths crossed or was he about to dispose of them? And if so, did I see the urn? Was he carrying it in his hands? Was it in his backpack? Was there a backpack? I don’t know. My memory of this moment is fuzzy. All I know is that there was love and death and ashes, an older man and a married couple, all sharing a few seconds of their lives under the windmill in a place called Oia.