DREAMING IN GREEK
I am very busy with non-blog activities from tomorrow 31st March until Wednesday 8th April, so the posts might be fewer then, if any. You can always contact me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
The smallest island I have ever been on is a Greek one called Marathi, which by coincidence is also the name of an Indian language that in spoken in Maharasthra, whose majestic capital is the megalopolis Bombay/Mumbai. Marathi, close to Lipsi in the Dodecanese, is basically a narrow sand spit less than a kilometre long, and it has two seasonal tavernas and an Orthodox chapel, and that is it. The taverna we ate in was run by a confident and energetic man in his handsome mid 50s, who had good English and served his food in exquisite ceramics. We drank white wine out of beautiful goblets, and listened as he tried passionately to persuade us to come back and have a proper holiday here, a whole fortnight on Marathi and nowhere else. He flatteringly advised us that we were a very good and very admirable and very compact family (a single daughter Ione just one month short of 13 in May 2002, and currently in fiercely glowering sulk mode)and we were just the right discriminating clients for someone like his taverna, which also doubled as a luxury domatia. Had she had no teenage daughter, Annie my wife might have relished the prospect of two weeks on a desert island, with gobleted wine and aubergine imam, and a gorgeous sandy beach and nothing else. After a gruelling week of consultant training, her very understandable idea of bliss was never to leave our North Cumbrian farmhouse for the whole weekend, and to see no one apart from Ione and myself.
The reason why Ione was sulking was that we had dragged her from our base on Lipsi, where she had become close acquaintances with a boy of 18 called Manolis, who was impressively the only person on Lipsi, and quite possibly the whole of the Dodecanese, with a bloody hell, look at that, a bloody old Mohican haircut. Today we were on a bargain boat excursion, which took us to Marathi and the bigger sister isle of Arki, of which more later. Ione would have insistently preferred to have stayed on Lipsi, there to dally romantically with the Last of the Mohicans, who was actually from Athens but staying with his Lipsi uncle. She did precisely that while Annie and I walked around tiny Lipsi, neighbour of the much better known Patmos. That arrangement permitted her 2 to 3 hour blocks in the company of burly massive Manolis, who thankfully was very rarely without his cousin, a fat and dozy looking youth called Panos. Panos looked irresistibly like Porky, best buddy of Geoff on the 1950s Lassie TV show, and I always referred to Manolis and Panos as Geoff and Porky, and hazarded that they greeted each other the same way the two TV friends did, with their secret formula of kay-oh-kay. However what is weird Ione, I snorted incredulously, is that there is no Lassie collie dog with them, in fact not any kind of dog on the horizon. This made Ione laugh as it happened, even though she was deeply smitten with Mohican Mano.
But today we were on a 6 hour boat ride, and after 2 seconds deliberation we decided we were not going to leave a 12 year-old girl with an 18 year-old boy for 6 unsupervised hours. Ione saw this steely absolutism of ours as unreformed Fascism, though she didn’t use those precise words, although neither were the ones she used even remotely polite or neutral, when it came to astringent cusswords muttered in an unrelenting sotto voce. Annie chipped in with her own humorous attempt to scare her daughter off, by saying that Manolis the Mohican was probably on a kind of police probation, and was staying with his uncle, not on a voluntary holiday but in compulsory exile. Again this made our daughter laugh, most probably because she didn’t believe it, whereas Annie and I on reflection though it a most definite working possibility.
Lipsi Hora which is also the port, is a sprawling and wholesome little place with some unpretentious and bargain domatia. In the one we stayed, we were given a separate room for Ione gratis, and the friendly owner Eleni told us that Mohican Manolis was regarded on the whole as yet another immature Athens youth, just the juvenile type to encourage a girlfriend six years his junior i.e. a beautiful young English girl of 12. One day infinitely hardworking Eleni showed us a massive tray of stuffed courgette flowers she had prepared for some friends arriving from Kos. They were so beautiful we felt like children looking at a festive birthday cake, and Eleni gave us samples and they were of an order of deliciousness appropriate to a fairy tale too.
Lipsi was a somnolent place to dawdle, with a sweet little strip of sandy beach called Platys Gialos, about an hour’s walk from the Hora. Platys Gialos had a permanent flotilla of loudly quacking ducks, and a ramshackle taverna run by a bespectacled boy of 15, who was all on his own but not dismayed by the fact. Otherwise Lipsi’s main sightseeing attractions had highly anticlimactic names like Monodhendri, meaning The Lone Tree. Which is precisely what Monodhendri was, a lone juniper tree on a lonely country junction that was windblown and gnarled as a result. To be sure it was a very striking juniper tree, though 5 seconds of examining it was quite adequate. That was Memorable Spectacle 1, out of 4 such Memorable Spectacles on Dodecanese Lipsi. Far more impressively, a few years earlier there had been a lonely hermit in his eighties called Filippos, dwelling in a tiny monastery above remote Kimisi Bay at the far end of Lipsi. But Filippos had become ill and was no longer there, living in a deserved comfort back in the Hora.
It is all very well to joke about Lipsi’s limitations, but things can get very serious on tiny islands. The boat trip that took us to Marathi was run by two Australian Greeks, Maria and Zafiris, who had moved back here from Melbourne with their sixteen year-old son. Being Aussies they had perfect English and sounded as much Australian as Greek. Maria explained how there were two such day trip outfits on Lipsi, one of them preceding hers, and run by a local father and son, who spoke almost no English. Predictably the sheeplike tourists opted for the one run by the Australians, as it was a bit of a linguistic struggle with the others, who also did not provide quite as much free wine and titbits as Maria and Zafiris. The local father and son grew considerably embittered as their income dwindled, so that one day the headstrong son lost it completely, and stuck a knife in Maria’s son and almost killed him. The case was currently pending at the court in adjacent Leros island. Annie and I were considerably shocked, but as Maria pointed out when a Greek starts to lose his income in a big way then everyone needs to run for cover.
After Marathi came pretty little Arki, population 40, and again with two tavernas. It has one hamlet capital, and otherwise nothing but scattered second homes and very few of those. When we got off the boat we followed our ears towards some effulgent and highly improbable jazz piano, and it turned out to be Bill Evans who was irradiating the pungent sea breeze and the intense May heat. The jazz freak was the taverna owner, who was about 50, handsome, long-haired, spoke English, and looked as if he was a most contented man. There I definitely could have spent two idyllic and perfectly mindless weeks, listening to his jazz collection and wandering the few trails to other beaches and possibly a couple of chapels. So could Annie, who also liked the mellowness and tenderness of Bill Evans, but Ione by now was in an unrepentant boiling froth. She kept asking us what time we would be back in Lipsi, and we kept telling her the same answer, but she did not like that answer and would have liked 3 hours shaved off it, and seemed surprised that we could not unilaterally do the shaving by commanding Aussie Zafiris to set off back forthwith, even though there were 10 other tourists very much wishing that our boat trip lasted twice as long.