When you run so fast to get somewhere,
And hurry and worry through the day,
You miss half the fun of getting there,
Like an unopened gift you threw away.
Nigel Mowet-Napier is not a welcome sight to many. Long grey scraggly hair falls haphazardly down, intermixed with similar tresses from his beard. Rail thin and with skin as nut-brown as a Greek Islander, he gives the appearance of Tolkien’s Tree Beard… but with one hell of a tan. He rolls about town in a wheelchair due to a missing leg, lost in a mysterious accident not discussed. In between the hair and dark skin there are deep lines caused from too many years in the sun. However his most distinctive characteristic are pale blue eyes that twinkle when telling a story, relating his love for this tiny island, or reciting a joke. So far in all my encounters with Nigel, he has always been clad in a cut-off denim jacket, holding a cigarette and downing an Amstel. This is the image one is greeted with initially, but it would be a mistake to categorize him as a shiftless, homeless drifter. He is something else entirely.
Nigel first came to Antiparos, “fifteen to eighteen years ago approximately, I’ve lost the particular year due to an excess of enjoyment.” Typically visiting twice yearly, he comes with the spring to enjoy the beginning of another summer season and returns for the fall, staying until the onset of winter causes him to beat a hasty retreat home. And where might home be for this gentleman? Why “Scotland of course.” Softly, with a voice reminiscent of Mrs. Doubtfire – actually that is exactly what he sounds like – he greets you with a cordial “good morning/afternoon/evening,” rolling his R’s, clicking his tongue and cutting off the endings of words in that sing-song way only old Scottish gents can produce. Nigel is Antiparos’s resident expat-in-charge, raconteur, jokester, mythologizer and poet. It is this last title that he is most proud of I think, as evidenced by the small volume of poetry that he hocks to visitors, lubricated by the dying sun’s rays and too many Mythos beers, at Sifneiko Bar.
From October through to May
Are seven months that I revile
I live beneath skies dull and grey
Away from Antiparos as an exile
Nigel has traveled widely, and upon learning of another’s homeland is prone to dissect it, focusing on several categories, namely; weather, friendliness of locals, availability of good food and beer, the cost of cigarettes and access for the physically challenged. It was this last criterion that concerned Nigel when he learned that I hailed from Melbourne, Australia. “Do you know… not great access for those in wheel chairs lad.” In addition to valuable advice concerning the availability of wheelchair ramps in Oz, Nigel is always ready for a chat, whatever time of day. Encountering him on the street one morning I greeted him with a “how are you doing Nigel?” and received that very Scottish of replies, “Well I’m feeling a wee bit grotty this morning actually, nothing a beer won’t fix though. Do you know that these last few years I have made it a point never to drink before noon… of course, it’s noon in Istanbul at the moment so…” cut to Nigel and I sitting at Yanni’s Place with a cold Alpha beer.
Last night, as we sat at Sifneiko Bar watching the sun set across the blue Aegean, I saw Nigel slowly approaching down the long dusty road. Not wanting to offend him I did not walk down the road to relieve those thin arms from their workout propelling him all the way from downtown (I should have). Upon his arrival at the bottom of the patio steps a waiter trotted down, took control of his chair and whisked him up a side ramp, over to a table, and furnished him with a large bottle of Amstel. Sitting quietly alone, beer at hand, a cigarette and a stack of his poetry books, Nigel watched the sunset for the umpteenth time. Attempting to watch both the sun and him I saw him gently nod off, lulled by the quiet music, long hot day and peaceful surroundings. The quiet chink of other people’s glasses occasionally roused him from his slumber, glancing up to check if the orb was any closer to the horizon. Nigel happens to be somewhat of an expert on Greek Island sunsets as it happens, having witnessed a good many of them from his perch at Sifneiko Bar. His rating of that particular evening’s performance? “It’s always different you see, the sun. Tonight was better than the other night you were here lad, that little wisp of cloud caught the light just right. Wonderful!”
With the setting sun reflecting brightly
On the tranquil blue Aegean seas
And romantic music playing lightly
Exotic flower scents fill the evening breeze
One afternoon, while watching the boats come and go from the harbor, I asked Nigel the question that I had been yearning to ask since meeting him, “Why Antiparos?” What follows was his answer as near as I can recall. “I have a friend in Scotland who likes to frequent the same pub as I do. She had been coming here for years and would always say that I should make time to visit Antiparos. It was a cold grey rainy day in Scotland, as so many of them often are, and so it was the Scottish weather that drove me to Antiparos. Do you know that for over forty years I have traveled around the world, to your homeland, New Zealand, America, Asia, almost all of Europe… Africa too! I used to think that there were too many places that needed visiting to waste time returning somewhere I had already been, but Antiparos has changed me. Here I see change of a different sort, and at my age that is something I enjoy. It’s not all about ticking a location off the list, you see. It’s the quality of the experience, not the quantity of the experience that counts. That and the fact that there are not many hills in town, much easier on my arms you see.” Touché.
How to sum up Nigel? Every post deserves a well constructed ending paragraph, replete with wit, a dash of humor and a dominant phrase to leave the reader to contemplate alone, like while on the toilet later on! Perhaps the best tact in this case is to let the man’s words speak for themselves. “Do you know the best thing about flying the Australia/New Zealand route to the west coast of the United States? The International Date Line. I still have in my possession two sales receipts, one from Auckland and one from San Francisco. The US one records that I paid for a coffee two hours before the one I bought in New Zealand. With that kind of alibi I should have pulled a bank job before getting on the plane!” With any other storyteller I might have brushed it off, with Nigel, I believe he just might have.
Poetry courtesy of Nigel Mowet-Napier