The idyllic, Greek island of Koufonisia has always been our secret El Dorado. Back in the time when our love was still an impossibility, we dreamt of going there together and even wrote about how we would imagine it to be. This summer, it finally happened.Koufonisi (literally meaning ‘the island of the deaf’) is little more than an over-sized rock off the coast of Naxos, but nothing short of a thalassic paradise. All around its jagged coastline and bleached sandy beaches, its turquoise waters blend into emerald seas, giving the sensation that you are walking between heaven and earth. And, as a bonus, all this splendour is within walking distance (or a short drive if you are as lazy we were).
But I divert. The point is that on a scorching August afternoon we set foot on this tiny island that embodied our relationship without us having ever been there before. Perhaps it was the effect of the 6-hour boat trip from Piraeus, but to me it felt a bit like the first encounter with a long-lost parent: emotional and yet a bit flat at the same time: ‘is this really, you? I did not imagine you with whiskers – but I like them anyway, you’re my papa… sniff, sniff’ (you get the gist).
Aliki and I had reunited at the pier in Athens after two weeks spent apart: she, with her children and me with mine in our respective home-countries. You can imagine, therefore, that we could have pretty much paid for only one seat; it was all the space we occupied all the way to Koufonisia. I, however, had an extra reason to be excited (and nervous). I had a cunning plan for my unsuspecting partner and Koufonisi was to be the back drop: I had bought her a ring.
Now, a ring is a very tricky thing to buy for a partner. First of all, there is the style. Which ring? What material? What does she like? And, more importantly, what suits her? Second, and probably the more delicate of the two questions, is the significance. What does the ring mean? Does it mean the same thing for both of us? Short of consolidating a marriage or an engagement (where hopefully that significance is clear to both parties), a ring can embody different meanings. Which one it is, is not always obvious, but one thing is certain: gifting a ring to a woman is never without meaning!
I had already gone through the biggest chunk of those choices back in Brussels and in case you’re wondering, I settled on a Christofle silver model. Not an obvious choice for a ring, I know, but a very good compromise. It was the only one slender enough to be stylish on Aliki’s long fingers, without the risk of it being mistaken for a wedding band. Moreover, it was made of noble metal. I didn’t want to give my partner simply an expensive piece of designer costume jewellery. In any case, when I gingerly stepped off the ferry, said ring was safely tucked away in a box in my rucksack. All that was left unanswered were two key questions: the delivery and the meaning.
The first was settled pretty much the moment we deposited our bags in the pristine white-washed room that was to be our love-nest for the next few days. Switching on the airconditiong we threw ourselves naked on the freshly-made bed in the dappled, purplish shade of the bouganvilla lining the terrace. I was itching!
– ‘Aliki, baby, how about we celebrate our arrival here by dining at the best restaurant in the chora, tonight!?
She turned around, her contours exquisitely outlined by the bright Mediterranean light.
– ‘I was thinking more of a simple souvlaki and an ice-cream on the go, love. After a couple of weeks with my mum I’m starting to feel like stuffed turkey. We could do the restaurant tomorrow?’
My heart sank. I had to wait another twenty-four hours. The itch risked becoming a full-blown emotional psoriasis!
(Continued: Read part 2)