Mouse Island (Pontikonissi) & The Bay of Olives

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FISHING WITH TAKI

"To the left of the little bay, a quarter of a mile or so from the shore, lay an island called Pondikonissi, or Mouse Island. It was shaped not unlike an isosceles triangle and was thick with elderly cypress trees and oleander bushes, that guarded a small snow-white church. ...

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Between Pondikonissi and my favourite bay, there stretched a whole string of reefs. Most of these were flat-topped, some of them only the size of a table, others of a small garden. The majority of them lay perhaps two inches below the surface of the water, so that if you hauled yourself out and stood on them, from a distance it looked exactly as though you were walking on the surface of the sea. ...

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I could see a little bottle of olive oil, such a necessary accoutrement to the fisherman, for, should a slight wind blow up and ruffle the waters, a sprinkling of oil would have a magically calming effect on the pleated surface of the sea. Slowly and steadily we crept out towards the black triangular silhouette of Pondikonissi to where the reefs lay. ...

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Peering down into the water, one felt as though one were a kestrel, floating smoothly on outstretched wings over a multi-coloured autumn forest. ...

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He rowed me out to the largest of the reefs and landed me with my gear on its flat top. Armed with my net, I prowled along the edges of the reef while Taki rowed the boat some six feet behind me, illuminating the smouldering beauty of the rocks.

There was so much life that I despaired of being able to capture it all.

There were fragile blennies, decked out in gold and scarlet; tiny fish half the size of a match stick with great black eyes and pillar-box red bodies and others, the same size, whose colouring was a combination of deep Prussian and pale powder-blue.

There were blood-red star fish and purple brittle star fish, their long, slender, spiky arms for ever coiling and uncoiling. These had to be lifted in the net with the utmost delicacy, for the slightest shock and they would, with gay abandon, lavishly shed all their arms.

There were slipper limpets that, when you turned them over, you found had half the underside covered by a neat flange of shell, so that the whole thing did look rather like a baggy, shapeless carpet slipper designed for a gouty foot.

Then there were cowries, some as white as snow and delicately ribbed, others a pale cream, heavily blotched and smudged with purple-black markings.

There were the coat-of-mail shells, or chitons, some two and a half inches long, that clung to crannies in the rocks looking like gigantic wood lice. I saw a baby cuttlefish the size of a match box and almost fell off the edge of the reef in my efforts to capture him, but, to my immense chagrin, he escaped.

After only half an hour’s collecting I found that my jars, tins and boxes were crammed to overflowing with life, and I knew that, albeit reluctantly, I would have to stop. ...

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I shouted "Be happy,"  after him.

"Pasto calo," he answered. "Go to the good."

I turned and trudged my way wearily up the hill."

Birds, Beasts and Relatives by Gerald Durrell.

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"This island was inhabited by an elderly and verminous monk, with long black robes and a stove-pipe hat, whose major function appeared to be the ringing of the bell in the match-box-size church at intervals and rowing slowly over to a neighbouring headland in the evening, where there was a small nunnery, inhabited by three ancient nuns. Here he would partake of ouzo and a cup of coffee, discuss, presumably, the state of sin in the world today, and then, as the sun set and turned the calm waters round his island to a multi-coloured sheet of shot silk, he would row back again, like a hunched black crow in his creaking, leaking boat."

..BIRDS BEASTS & RELATIVES © Gerald Durrell 1969.

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