Early morning – there is surely nothing to compare to that light, just making its appearance, bringing with it all the blurred memories and movements of the past night's dreams. The sense of hush, the echo to the footfalls on the creamy marble paving stones, funnelled through the narrow streets, that curious inward look people have as if they've not yet formed the face they'll wear to look out on the world.
Sunlight is soft, with a silvery intensity. Shadows are stark, and lie across the brickwork and the walls, forming long angles, like claims to kinship that go back so far that memory itself is stretched, and has not gathered the necessary forces to wrangle with words, preferring this long and sweet and dark complicity. Shadows hide behind tall buildings and thin seams of sunlight escape in gaps between them, full of confidence, as if the sun has cut slim wedges from its hot night bakery and is throwing them out into the streets. Scents of warm oil and pastry, baked bread and hot and salty cheese drift into the open air.
A large yellow dog stands in the open doorway of a bakery. Motionless and totally contained within its skin as if its whole self has been compressed and thickened, such is the quality of his concentration. He is not begging or demanding, he is not expecting, he is not even waiting, he is so completely in the present that nothing else exists for him. Of course I like to think that he will get something and as he is not lean or emaciated it seems that he has been successful in the past.
I'm up early to get a bus to where - as far as I can gather from the map, for there is no-one at the information desk to help out – is the best place to climb Mount Pantokrator. It only strikes me later that I should have consulted with the mountain first instead of falling into the lazy way of thinking that the landscape is passive and I can simply go where I want whenever the mood takes me, or the time is available in my schedule. What about the mountain's feelings, its desires, whether obscured by clouds or held in sunlight?
As I walk from near Ipsos-am-Meer to the village of Spartilas I think about how some people talk about mountain climbing, as if it was a 'conquest' of this or that mountain. The only things climbers have conquered I feel is something within them. Their fears or their doubts, possibly their limitations. To climb a mountain – so I think as I walk along the road that slopes gently uphill, in wide sweeping hairpin bends – is to come into its presence, to be within its incredible atmosphere. A mountain is like a reservoir - it has collected so much that's come from the sky, so that on its summit one can bathe in this sky-energy. To climb it is to draw close to it and to be grateful for its generosity, that it freely shares this atmosphere with you. For it is a gift, this high-up mountain feeling, that cannot be experienced anywhere else.
By the time I'd walked for over three hours, there were clouds gathering around the mountain peak. It's funny the way clouds do that, how they adore the high places, the mountain tops, how they lace themselves around the peaks in misty adoration.
It was getting chilly with the sun obscured, and the clouds looked as though they could easily turn dark and thunderous. I calculated from the map that it would take me at least another hour and a half to reach the top - and then I would have the long walk back. It was the clouds that decided me. I did not want to be caught out on the mountain in the kind of rain that I know this place is capable of. So I turned back and it was just as well. It did not rain, but by the time I got home I was very very tired.