Letters From Santorini: A Day in the Shop

There’s no need for an alarm clock. The shop opens when we are awake enough to open it, and there’s no rush, the morning is a slow time for us. The impossibly bright Greek sun sneaks in through the windows, the crack in the door that is left open for the cat to wander in and out at night, and the Hole that connects the back room of the shop to the roof terrace. We get up when we feel like it, though we try and be up and running by 10 o’clock or so.

I unzip my sleeping bag and pull my clothes from the piles on the floor and dress. I wander into the main shop area, careful not to disturb the still sleeping members of the shop who are concealed up on beds that are found up improvised ladders, or hidden behind bookshelves.

Instantly I am ambushed by Maxi the cat. In a story that is almost too perfect to be true, Maxi was found newborn on the steps of the shop six months ago, eyes still closed and mewling for her mother. Nursed back into health, she now prowls through the shop, knocking books from the high shelves, curling up on beds and cushions, kneading and licking your belly in a vain attempt to elicit mothercat milk, trying to filch the meat from your plate on the rare occasion that we actually have meat to eat in the shop, and generally making an adorable nuisance of herself. In the mornings, as soon as she sees ankles she leaps out, claws into the sides of your feet and teeth into the hamstrings. She is playing, of course, but she likes to play rough.

I practice my boxing footwork, shifting and sliding around the shop floor as she stalks and chases my tantalising pale flesh, occasionally turning an ankle to present her with a target like a trainer flashing a punch pad to a boxer in the practice ring. She’s quick, but I usually manage to eke out a draw in the three minute round that we spar each morning. That is unless she pins me in a clinch, in which case she fights dirty and wins dirty, holding and biting her way to victory until she has driven me wincing and yelping from the front room and into the kitchen.

Coffee is the priority in the morning – the first person up needs to get on that post haste. Cafetieres are bullshit, instant coffee a crime against humanity – coffee from the hob boiled espresso maker is the only real coffee, mixed with warm full fat milk in a 60/40 split. This is how we roll.

Summoned by the smell of coffee, other members of the shop shuffle into view, pouring out cups and disappearing to the bathroom one by one to wrestle with our eccentric plumbing. The doors are opened, the sign flipped around, the trunk of second hand books popped open, the display books put out and the place is open for business.

As I said, morning is slow time for us. It is rare to see a potential customer in the streets, rarer still to see them in the shop. The only exception is when a cruise ship has stopped by in the morning, and the streets briefly fill. We despise the cruisers – loud, ridiculous people, tagged and labelled and led like fat cattle through the streets of Oia, drawn irresistibly to the crappy jewellery stores and souvenir stores. I don’t know if stupid people go on cruises or if cruises simply make people stupid, but they don’t make a good impression. In any case, they are alarmed by our steep steps and uninterested in our stock, and so they mostly leave us be.

Since the risk of customers is fairly low, we take breakfast at leisure on the roof of the shop – there is a nice set of battered wooden tables and chairs to lounge on if the weather is good (and it usually is unless the wind is up). Breakfast is muesli with chopped fruit and Greek yoghurt. After breakfast, the world’s most informal business meeting is held and a rough plan for the day is hammered out.

Midday and early afternoon are still fairly quiet and is the time to get things done. Perhaps we restock the shelves or play around with the displays, do some painting or repairing or shopping, dust the shelves and sweep the floor. Once every few weeks we have to go to Fira, the capital, and pay in some money and go talk to the accountant. Our meetings with the accountant are like that scene in the first episode of Black Books – we go to their nice clean offices looking like tramps and a dump a draw full of invoices, till printouts, used sweet wrappers and pocket lint onto their tastefully decorated desks. Adam, our long suffering accountant, looks up at us with weary affection and quietly shuffles off to sift through the crap and try and turn it into some kind of respectable business account.

Work or play is briefly interrupted by lunch – bread, olive oil, salad, freshly made tsatziki, cold meat and amazing creamy feta cheese – before resuming again. People take breaks as they wish, sloping off to take walks around the village, visits to the beach, napping on the terrace, studying, writing and reading or whatever they please. We take it in turns to keep an eye on the shop. Time passes quickly – the day is gone before you know it.

As the afternoon stretches on, the shop starts to get busy. Baffled to discover such a characterful bookshop in the middle of Oia, visitor after visitor is tempted to take a detour from their idle afternoon wander or shopping trip and venture down into Atlantis Books. Plenty of them are fascinated by the shop and in search of good reading, but most pay a regretfully hurried visit – the sunset is coming, and they are itching to make a purchase (or not) and get out for the star attraction.

As the famous sunset approaches, we have the shop to ourselves once more. All of our potential customers are jockeying for position on the roofs and terraces of Oia, waiting to break into applause as the sun to touches the sea. We watch from the terrace, sipping beer or the local wine and commenting on the relative merits of the evening’s natural light show.

The evening winds down naturally enough. Sometimes there is another rush of business after people have finished eating at the tavernas, sometimes not. In the shop a mass supper is cooked and eaten in the shop, or by a fire on the roof terrace if business is slow and the wind is down. When yawns start to dominate the conversation (usually around midnight) we close things up.  Sometimes we go for a walk beneath the stars, or finish the evening up with a film on the projector. People go to their personal corners of the shop to read and think, before finally retiring to wait for the sun to rise again for the whole thing to begin over again.

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1 Comment

Filed under Letters from Santorini

One response to “Letters From Santorini: A Day in the Shop

  1. Lyds

    Sounds idyllic. 🙂

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