Beachcombers and fish hawkers

The beach is wind blown under a grey sky. Usually it is empty, but the season brings an assortment of wheatears, little egrets, yellow wagtails and common sandpipers; all are foraging after a day of torrential rain.
Two fishermen at the water’s edge sit, hunched like herons, over long rods. The harbour wall at Agios Nikolaos is battered by rolls of white waves and the little fishing boats stay at home.

There are over 70 house martin nests under the balconies of the houses that line the sea front and the birds collect mud from around the car park puddles. Along the coast, a female blue rock thrush hunts in amongst the litter and debris on the upper shore; she may have wandered from the cliffs beyond Agios Dimitrios where there are many breeding pairs.

A day later, the sea is flatter but not yet glass and the fishing boats are out early in the morning. Most have a single boatman who set nets out close to the coast. Today, all the boats are out from first light and all come into Agios Nikolaos harbour one after the other to sell their catch between nine and ten o’clock. The first one is crewed by a man with large beard but the catch which is turned out onto the marble counter at the quayside is uniformly small and the writhing fish, roughly sorted by species, don’t sell.

The next boat is crewed by a man and wife who tie up and then, sitting at the stern, unhurriedly pick out the fish from the great yellow net with practised ease; when done, the man tips out the much more substantial haul from his plastic crate. The local buyers select what they want with the briefest of nods and then there is a wait to sell the rest. The man takes an espresso, pours it into a half glass of water and returns to the boat to sort the nets while the wife clears the catch; she throws a few small fish to the patient crowd of waiting cats. The first fishermen sweeps up his catch into a plastic bag and leaves on his moped in a cloud of blue smoke.

More boats arrive; the fish and a couple of large octopuses writhe and gasp on the counter again as the buyers do their work before the empty marble tiles are washed down with a hosepipe. Fishermen talk of fish to each other over a cigarette; a mixture of local men and curious tourists sit at the cafe tables above the quay to watch the proceedings and talk the bright morning away.

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