My husband, his father and I sit outside on the veranda of their Mykonos summer home, sipping ice-cold frappes and debating which beach to go to, when our rather jet-lagged family friend emerges. He has just woken up and takes up his seat at the table. It’s a very hot day without a breath of wind in the air. I’m sat facing the house with my back to the sea view, but my head keeps turning around like an egg timer, slowly ticking towards the sea before snapping back to the conversation around the table. The view from up here is incredible, like a postcard. The sea is the same blue as the Greek flag, blending into lighter shades of turquoise along the coastline. Just ahead and slightly to the right is the sacred island of Delos, framed above the pink bougainvillea that grows thick and fast against the side of the house. I glance at the time, just after four in the afternoon.
Our family friend is not Greek, so the conversation now switches to English. ‘You know what I love the most about this family?’ He says, looking around still half asleep, his eyes settling on mine, ‘that they don’t judge you for sleeping.’ Ah this, I tell him, is by far my favourite thing too. ‘Growing up,’ he says, ‘my family didn’t let me sleep! It didn’t matter how late you went to bed. If you weren’t up by ten there was something wrong with you.’ I know exactly what you mean, I tell him, swallowing another piece of the delicious Greek dessert they call chocolate pie, my family like me to rise and shine early too. But when we come to Greece from London in the winter, which is also two hours ahead, I tell him, I wake up with the moon! In this family, nobody wakes you or will ask anything of you until after you have decided to get up and have finished your frappe!
The two Greeks smile and chuckle back in an effort to share sympathies but it’s clear they have no idea what we’re talking about since sleeping until the afternoon is as normal to them as having dinner at midnight. My father-in-law lights up a cigarette, which my husband snatches from him and stubs out. In my family, I continue, there’s a specific window of time in which each meal should take place. ‘In mine too,’ the friend interjects, ‘whereas yesterday, we all sat down for dinner at midnight! We were still eating our mains at one o’clock in the morning, and the restaurant was full!’ This is, after all, Mykonos. I agree and we’re discussing this notion of Greek time when I blurt out, I’m a sleep activist! Because I love sleep, and because I think that most people could be, should be, getting a lot more of it. ‘That’s a wonderful way to put it…’ he says, but already I can see his thoughts have moved on elsewhere. ‘You know,’ he says, while getting up and sliding his chair back under the table, ‘I think I’m going to go back to sleep.’ And off he went.