Undersea Epiphany

Matt Barrett Weekly Hubris Banner

“I wonder about rich people. They never have to grow up. They just keep buying toys to amuse themselves. These horrible machines are just appliances to them. Something to make their lives easier, like electric can-openers. But because of their total lack of compassion for their fellow man, they aren’t aware of the discomfort these noisy motorcycles on skis cause the villagers, or me. If only one would pass close enough so I could shoot its reckless rider. Justifiable homicide. ‘I saw this terrible creature like a demon from hell coming for me spewing smoke and foam. I just closed my eyes and shot. What would you have done in my place, Officer?’”—Matt Barrett

Nothing At All to Write Home About 

By Matt Barrett

One of Matt’s secret beaches.
One of Matt’s secret beaches.

Author’s Note: The following is excerpted from a collection of my essays to be found on my Greek travel site. Follow the blueline here to read more of Spearfishing in Skatahori, email me with questions and comments, or join my Greece Travel Facebook Page. If you like this story, please share it with your friends on Facebook (and everywhere else).


CARRBORO North Carolina & KEA Greece—(Hubris)—September/October 2023—Life begins at four. At least it does here in Kalohori. I wake up at around 8:30, drink some strong coffee, and begin writing. I either finish at 12:30 and meet the flying dolphin or, as has been the case lately, type right through until one of the girls comes to get me for lunch. Then I return to the room and read or listen to some Ken Wapnick tapes on A Course In Miracles and try to convince Amarandi to take a nap. I’m not always successful. At 4:00, I grab my gear and go to the sea.

Today, I walk to the next beach over, the little stone inlet before Saint George. Andrea said she would come in an hour. I thought about spending some time collecting sea urchins for my friend, Nikos the Contractor. Also, Mister Octopus has already started hassling me for some, but the thrill of the hunt has too much power over me. I cannot be satisfied scraping a few oversized barnacles off the sea bed; I need to smell the blood of real fish, sense their fear as they feverishly try to escape, feel the thrill as harpoon meets scaly flesh. Plus, I need the exercise. So, leaving the thousands of tasty, spiny creatures behind, oblivious to how close they came to death, I swim south along the coast, looking for prey.

As I get closer to Saint George, I keep hearing the sound of racing engines. When I round the bend, I see, to my horror, two American-style yachts. And racing around the tiny quiet bay are two jerks on jet-skis.

“What is it with these people? They find the quietest place on earth and they make as much noise as they can. Anyone so obsessed with disturbing the environment must himself be quite disturbed,” I tell myself, taking aim at a small skaros (Mediterranean parrotfish, Sparisoma cretense) and blasting him into oblivion.

I gather the fish pieces together. I wonder about rich people. They never have to grow up. They just keep buying toys to amuse themselves. These horrible machines are just appliances to them. Something to make their lives easier, like electric can-openers. But because of their total lack of compassion for their fellow man, they aren’t aware of the discomfort these noisy motorcycles on skis cause the villagers, or me. If only one would pass close enough so I could shoot its reckless rider. Justifiable homicide. “I saw this terrible creature like a demon from hell coming for me spewing smoke and foam. I just closed my eyes and shot. What would you have done in my place, Officer??”

I watch them for a moment, racing back and forth, in circles, making sharp turns and reversing direction. They remind me of the kids with skateboards going off the steps at the Chapel Hill Post Office. It’s the exact same thing except that these skateboards have big engines built by peace-loving engineers at Honda and Yamaha and the riders have lifejackets instead of kneepads. Instead of tattoos they have their own gold cards, given to them with great ceremony on their 13th birthdays. I congratulate myself on my brilliant analogy and continue my killing spree.

Catch of the day: Skaros, not yet grilled.
Catch of the day: Skaros, not yet grilled.

As I approach Saint George, I realize that the danger of being run over by one of these upper-caste daredevils is increasing exponentially. Then, suddenly, the sound stops. Like all children, they have quickly become bored with their toys and moved on to something else. I imagine them in their luxury cabins playing star-destroyer or jerking off to their bleach-blonde mother’s Jane Fonda exercise video. I figure I have about 15 minutes before they find a new way to disturb the silence and endanger my life. I use that time to swim past where their yachts are moored at the church of Saint George and continue on towards the lighthouse. As it turns out, I had more time than I thought. It took them half an hour before they broke out the old water skis—primitive, yet still efficient in relieving the boredom of people in the habit of getting everything they want the minute they want it. At least now they won’t be anywhere near the rocks, and I can fish in peace.

When I reach the point, I see a small boat. In it is Panayotis, this time fishing for rofos (Dusky Grouper, Epinephelus marginatus) instead of kefalos (Flathead Grey or Striped Mullet, Mugil cephalus). I wave to him.

“Have you seen any rofos?” he asks me.

“Hundreds,” I tell him. “They’re everywhere. Do you want one?” I offer to catch one for him. I haven’t been hunting them because I’ve been waiting for Mitch to arrive. Rofos are a soup fish and the fish I’ve been catching are for grilling and frying. The rofos, somehow sensing that I’m not a danger to them, come out of their homes to watch me pass by, like widows and children watching a conquering army march through their village. To shoot one now might alert them to my future plans. I’m glad that Panayotis misunderstands me or hasn’t heard me and has gone back to his fishing.

I swim a little farther and turn around. I already have plenty of fish, several skaros, some gopa (Bogue, a kind of Bream, scientific name: Boops boops, I kid you not), a few kefalos and one barbouni (Red Mullet, Mullus barbatus), when I see a group of perka (Painted Comber, Serranus scriba). They are hassling a large octopus. I don’t even think about it. My instincts take over as soon as I realize that this octopus is big enough to shoot and don’t feel ashamed about it.

I shoot badly. Even at close range I am so excited that I have forgotten Robert De Niro’s immortal words in “The Deer Hunter”: “You have to take a deer with one shot.” It’s the same with octopus. I have merely wounded the poor creature and he disengages himself and begins to swim away. I reload and shoot him again, this time fatally. The only problem is that he doesn’t know it’s fatal. He’s stuck on the spear but still fighting to get himself off. Michalis Orphanidis, my spearfishing guru, told me that when I get in this situation I need to turn the octopus’s head inside out. It sounded easy on land, drinking beer in the Old Captain Bar, but at sea it’s a different story. First of all, the octopus doesn’t want his head turned inside out. It’s also my one free arm against his eight tentacled arms or legs. I decide to end it quickly and pull out my trusty knife. In a moment, it’s all over. I have stabbed myself in the hand.

“Did you catch anything?” Panayotis calls to me from the boat. I pull out the large octopus that is still attached to the end of my spear.

“That’s a great one,” he tells me. His young partner has caught one too and waves it in the air. It isn’t more than four inches long. He gasps when he sees mine and looks ashamedly at the lifeless baby octopus he holds. I imagine him despairing over what he has done on the long boat-ride back to the village. He has killed a baby octopus before it had the chance to experience the true beauty of life. It would never taste the waters of a fresh mountain spring or see the leaves change from green to autumn red. It would never go to a circus or ride a pony. I, on the other hand, have just brutally murdered its mother.

“Well, I can live with it,” I say to myself and force the sad thought to the deeper vaults of my mind where it will have lots of company. I continue home.

Skaros, grilled, with lemon.
Skaros, grilled, with lemon.

When I reach Saint George again, I have to circle around the accursed yachts so as not to pass by where the stern is moored close to the small dock. Who knows what kind of filth is spewing from those pipes jutting from the back of the sleek craft. I swim around the bow and come face to face with one of the terrible jet-skis lying idle and unattended. As my fear quickly passes, I realized this is an excellent opportunity to make a political statement. A disconnected cable here. A fuel tank punctured by a sharp three-pronged object. A kefalo jammed into the gearbox. But I remember a lesson from A Course In Miracles about forgiving my enemies. Divine intervention has saved the infernal machine. I swim on.

A few meters farther, I see my landlord, Yannis Zaferis, working on his boat. He asks what I’ve caught and if I want a ride back. I tell him I would rather swim. He shakes his head in disbelief. As I approach the first cove, I see two people sitting on a rock. As I draw closer, I realize it’s my cousin Christina and her pretty friend whom I have been fantasizing about lately. I stop and chat before continuing on my journey. They are horrified when they see my spear-gun.

“Women,” I think to myself. “They hate spear-guns but they love fish. Perhaps I should kill them more peacefully by the net-ful, leaving them gasping for breath on the deck as they die by the hundreds. Genocide. Let them frown on my methods and do their fishing in the market.”

I remember the age old saying, “The meat is sweeter when you have slaughtered the calf.” Vindicated, I swim on, shooting at everything that moves.

By the time I reach the tiny beach, it is obvious that someone had been there since me. There is a pile of sea urchin shells by a rock and their stinking carcasses have attracted a horde of yellow jackets. I try to imagine Andrea smashing the little creatures on the rock and scooping out their tasty innards with her fingers, but it doesn’t make sense. This is not Andrea’s doing. Someone else has been here, most likely Mister Octopus and his family on one of their picnics. And their carelessness has created an ecological catastrophe. Bees everywhere and I still have the unpleasant task of beating the octopus on the rocks to tenderize him.

I find a semi-flat stone and begin methodically slamming the poor dead creature as the bees gather, licking their little yellow lips. I pay them no heed and show no fear as I continue my work, occasionally catching a yellow jacket unaware and sending him to Charon. This is fun, I think, as yet another one gets in the way of the falling octopus and is obliterated. I carelessly brush him into the sea, where he is instantly devoured by hungry, nameless black fish. But before long, there are just too many bees. Outnumbered, I pack up my octopus, fish, and equipment and set off on the path to town.

Another of Matt’s “undisclosed Greek locations.”
Another of Matt’s “undisclosed Greek locations.”

When I get to the port, I sit on a small dock and begin to clean the fish, remembering the little poem an old fisherman taught me.

The rofos you eat the head; melanouri the body; but for skaros, eat the shit and tell me which do you prefer?

I happily chant as I go about my work. Andrea joins me. “Don’t ever swim away for so long. I thought you were dead,” she lectures me. I continue cutting and cleaning, unmindful of her or the new swarm of bees that has gathered around me. “I thought your shoes on the beach were the last I would ever see of you,” she adds.

“Did you think about the last conversation we had and whether or not you were nice to me?” I ask innocently. She hadn’t.

By now, the bees are too much for an intolerant person like Andrea and she leaves me to finish cleaning the fish. Task completed, I dive into the sea and splash all the guts and fish juice off the small dock so nobody can complain about me using it. I climb out and walk home to shower and get ready for Saturday night.

We had planned to go to Metropolis and eat at Lula’s (or, as Jack calls, her “Boney Marony”). Actually, they had planned. I had nothing to do with it and would have been happy to eat chicken and kokoretsi at Katina’s. I hadn’t eaten at Lulu’s since she charged me 2,000 drachmas to cook the fish I’d caught, almost four years ago. It was a matter of principle I told everyone. Besides, we were a little short and technically still owed her the 2,000. Best let things smooth over before we go back, I had told my family. Now, years later, it was time to return. Lula had probably learned her lesson by now and had most likely forgotten about the money. Once again, our American sense of justice was prevailing and we were slowly but surely teaching these simple people through our painless methods.

Grilled Skaros.
Grilled Skaros.

As we climbed the hill that led to the restaurant, I had Amarandi on my shoulders. The last time we had eaten here, she had been a nameless fetus in Andrea’s womb. How things change. Another important lesson whose symbolism would not be lost on Lulu, if, she had gotten the last lesson. When I reach the entrance, I know she has. She greets us with open arms, and a trace of tears in her eyes as she shows us to the best table in the house, which Andrea rejects because it is too bright and the light attracts so many bugs. We take a more humble table in the wings and wave to our friend James Crispy the artist, who is trying to hide from us in a darkened corner. We prepare for the evening’s jousting. Elaine opens.

“I just found out that the people staying at the house we stayed at our first night are only paying seven and a half.” We had paid nine. Elaine was up to her old tricks, using an old argument to start a new one. But Andrea is on to her.

“They just tell you that price. Like when people ask me, I say we are only paying 3,000 instead of 4.”

“Why?” we ask incredulously.

“Because I don’t want to them to know we are being ripped off,” answers Andrea. Elaine begins a psychological probe while I get straight to the heart of the matter.

“So, you lie to them?”

WHAM. Andrea hits me with a verbal overhand roundhouse.

“JESUS CHRIST DO WE HAVE TO HAVE AN ARGUMENT. WE JUST GOT HERE!!!!” she yells with a voice that’s a wonder of nature coming from such a small body.

Every table turns to look. Andrea has scored an impressive first round knock-out by catching me completely off guard. I’m too humiliated to continue. I stagger as I leave the table and hurry down the hill to the safety of Katina’s. I reach the restaurant, but its warm glow has deceived me. “Where’s my octopus, Boy!” It’s Mister Octopus and the question he has been taunting me with for years. I stutter incoherently and run into the night to be alone with my thoughts.

Matt, octopus, and Amarandi.
Matt, octopus, and Amarandi.

‘Where will I have dinner?” I wonder as I sit on a step just out of sight of the bar. I could go back to Katina’s. The chicken looked awfully good, but I can’t face Mister Octopus again. Not without my octopus, which is drying in the sun on the clothesline outside our house. Instead, I will starve myself. That’ll show Andrea. With any luck, I’ll be dead by morning. I stop for some juice and milk for Amarandi. No reason for her to suffer because of the incompatibility of her parents, but in my delirium I drink the entire container of juice. Damn. Just enough to sustain me until morning. My plan has gone awry. I feel the sweet taste of revenge vanish from my fruity lips. I will live to face other challenges and arguments.

“Yes,” I tell myself. “I will live. But as what and for what purpose?”

Through the haze of my dilemma, I hear God’s voice in my head, as I so often do, coming from the not too distant past, soft and gentle at first. I try to make out the words. “Matthew . . . forget about the silly arguments between humans . . . .  Life is not made for bickering . . . .  There are more important things and you have a higher purpose, one that is unique to your special talents.” Yes, God. I believe that, but don’t make me wait any longer. Please tell me what my higher purpose is so I don’t spend any more time causing pain and chasing pointless dreams. At least give me a sign of the direction you want me to go. “Look within where the answer has always been,” the voice tells me for the umpteenth time. I closed my eyes and let the silence envelope me, the chatter of my thoughts slowing down until I am left with one image of pure light, in the shape of a box.

THE BOX SCORES! A week’s worth of baseball in the USA today that my friend Greg brought back from Athens and left at our front door that very day. He had not forgotten. God had not forgotten. I had forgotten and, in my haste to go out to dinner, had left the paper in our house, unread.

Suddenly, I feel more alive than ever before. The baseball scores! I run towards the house at breakneck speed, my will to live revived. I was looking for meaning in life and God heard my cries. He had responded to my anguish.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” they say. But when it’s time to relax, He likes nothing better than a good game of baseball and a cold beer. And I, created in his image, am no different. All-knowing as He is, He’s sent me the one thing that can save me: USA TODAY!

“Thank you, Lord,” I say silently as I pick up the sports page. “You’re the best God of them all.”


After an unspectacular career as a gifted songwriter (and a less than gifted guitar player), Matt Barrett began his Greece Travel Guide website in 1996, one of the first travel sites on the internet and a blog before the word was invented. In the years since, he has written hundreds of articles about Greece and his websites have helped millions of people visit (and even move there). Matt’s works have been published in . . . well, actually, this is the first time any of his stories and articles has been published anywhere except on his website (not including the many articles that have somehow found their way onto Chinese travel websites.) His E-book Spearfishing In Skatohori has sold dozens of copies on Amazon. Matt has never won any awards or, if he has, nobody has told him about them. He divides his time among his home in Carrboro, North Carolina, his house on the Greek Island of Kea, his daughter’s apartment in Kypseli, Athens, his sister-in-law’s house on Lesvos, Greece, and a few other places best left unmentioned. Matt has two more unpublished books: In Search Of Sardeles Pastes and I Married a Lesbian. He lives with his wife and four cats, none of whom particularly likes him. (The wife does, sometimes). The best place to find Matt is on his website at (or at Yannis Kalofagadon Taverna on Kea).