Just Above The Clouds
Yesterday I got to stand atop the summit of a nearby mountain, just above the clouds. The peak was marked with a concrete bollard daubed with paint: 1470 metres it read. There was no snow on the mountain as yet; in fact yesterday was another quite balmy October day with a blue sky and some twenty-one degrees. I say twenty-one, that being the temperature indicated at sea level, but when we parked the car a couple of hundred metres from the top, the gauge was reading fourteen, so I figured that if an elevation of approximately 1500 metres equates to a drop of seven degrees, then it falls one degree for every 200 metres. Having said that, I’m almost certain it doesn’t work that way, and that it’s far more complicated and involves all kind of algebraic formulae. It would be nice if it didn’t though. I like things simple.
The mountaintop houses a small ski centre. There’s a nondescript cuboid office near the top and a few tightly sealed wood-cladded shacks scattered round and about. The area has a melancholic abandonment, as though unsure if it will get reborn this winter, if indeed ever again, and I thought that it was in desperate need of some love, or at the very least a lick of paint and a spruce up.
We had parked the car at the bottom of one of the slopes and walked uphill from there. The slope was steep, but climbing was made easier as the surface was a little rutted from the undertakings of a bulldozer leveling the ground probably not so many days ago. Along the way, there was a post marked with the name of the slope that I forget and a red circle stamped with the number one. The friend who accompanied me, who happens to be a ski instructor, (I myself have never graced a ski slope) informed me that a red circle meant that it is a run for experienced skiers, hence the steepness. It was in fact his suggestion to come and have a look at the centre, to see what it had going for it, how many runs etc. I just came along for the ride.
We happened upon a local man half way up. He was propped against one of the pylons holding in his hand some kind of gauge or electric meter, his head tipped back, looking upwards. Above him, the chairs that clung to the thick rusty-brown cable of the ski lift momentarily moved along a tad, swinging precariously from side to side once it stalled. It made me think of fairgrounds, and how I have never enjoyed them. The last time I visited one it was as much my adrenaline-seeking brother could do to get me on the relatively docile ghost train, which was quite enough thrill for my pint-sized appetite.
My friend asked me to ask the man with the meter in his hand if the centre would be opening this winter. We stumbled about in my basic Greek for a while, and I managed to establish that it would be, that he was an electrician, that he was here checking over the apparatus, and that he had never skied in his life. The man then asked me where I was from, and once he knew that I was from England, he exchanged his Greek for perfect English delivered in an accent I would place somewhere between New York and Liverpool. Once it was established that he spoke a common tongue, my friend, who is of a very affable nature, had a good old natter with him, and in that small world way, discovered that the electrician has a brother living in the same area as my friend on the Kent coast.
The electrician spoke with a shortness of breath, and I noticed that he was almost toothless but for a lonely incisor at the front. He commended our fitness in walking up the slope, bemoaning the fact that he, after a full day’s work, had no time for walking, adding that he was also a heavy smoker. The way he said it led me to believe that although he was a reluctant smoker, he was certain it was an affliction for which there is no known remedy, seemingly resigned to the fact that he will be smoking all the way to the grave.
Goodbyes were said, and we continued heading up to the summit. The friend I was with was in fact an old work colleague, well, to be honest he was once my boss, and the last time I saw him was over twenty-five years ago. He had recently got in touch in the way Facebook allows friends of old to reconnect, and, despite the many years of silence, he said that he would come and see me when he came over to visit his sister who lives in a suburb of Athens. To be honest, I didn’t think it would amount to anything at all, so it was a bit of a surprise when a couple of days ago, he got in touch to say that he was driving up the next day. Text type messages tend to be all too brief, so he gave me no indication of his reason for coming. Perhaps it is an insight in to my thought process that I could think of only two reasons, the first of which was that maybe he had a terminal illness and he wants to reconnect with old friends before his time’s up. The second, and I had nothing at all to back this up, was that there was something he needed to tell me face-to-face, or even worse, mano a mano. But, like I mentioned, I could not think of anything to substantiate either of these theories, though I had had a good old rummage around the memory banks.
And so, on the day before yesterday, my old friend drove for over four hours from Athens to get here, and yesterday morning we met as agreed outside his hotel and went for a coffee along the promenade. It turned out that there was no other reason for him coming than to see an old friend again, to reminisce a little, to breakfast, lunch and take afternoon cake together in another sea facing cafe. We ended up spending the entire day together, and I am left to wonder if it will be another twenty-five years before we meet again.