Sipping ouzo, I ask Gerhard what brings him back to Mount Athos year after year? The question seems to catch him off guard. “Some places are special,” he says. “Some places you feel more at home than…at home.” He chuckles, surprised at his response. “In Germany, life is so always full with appointments. My sons and I never have the time to know each other. Here it is different. We are together as men. We talk only about what is important. For us, Mount Athos is a retreat.”
“A sacred place?”
“Jah. That is a good word for it—sacred. Not because of religion, but the place itself. Understand?”
I tell him I do, watching the last light of day paint the wedge of Agion Oros dusty rose. The deep hue of nightfall saturates the landscape like ink, until there are only the subtlest variations of this rhapsody in blue. Gerhard gazes in peaceful satisfaction at the slowly blurring line between sea and deep space. He is at last reunited with his hirsute hierophants, unspoiled natural wonders, and the incalculable artistic treasures of his most sacred place. He sits with his boys—in the company of men—while the women wait on a distant shore. With ouzo in his warm belly and a clean place to sleep, all is as it should be in Herr Jaeger’s punctilious world.
“Tomorrow we walk north to Vatopaidiou,” Gerhard says. “And you?”
“South,” I nod toward the black keep of Stavronikita. “I need to make my retreat alone.”