“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
— Albert Camus
HELLO EVERYONE, I’M BACK!!
I returned to a freezing cold, windy and very wet Skiathos and unable to locate my key-holder right away, I had time to assess the extent of the winter damage and the work that lay in store for me. It was overwhelming! The old Kalivi roof had all but collapsed
and the garden was completely overgrown: a jungle of waist high weeds and asphodels!
When I finally got inside, I found the water pump had seized, the mains electricity had fused, the phone (and internet connection!) was dead. With damp walls all around and having missed a whole night’s sleep traveling, I felt so depressed and if there had been a flight would probably have headed straight back to the airport. Instead I took to my bed hoping to wake up and find it was all just a bad dream.
As it happens (some 10 hours later!) I woke up completely refreshed and raring to go. I threw open the shutters and even though everything was indeed as I first found it, somehow, greeted by the sun now pouring in, clear blue skies offering a clear view across the water to Evia, and a fresh smell of spring in the air, it didn’t look quite so daunting after all – It felt so good to be back!
A few phone calls later and water and power were quickly restored but it took over a week and several attempts, to get the phone line repaired! I couldn’t wait to spring into action….and apologies for this long silence but, well, haven’t stopped since!.
At last the house is feeling like a home again, dry, aired and swept and polished:
The garden is taking shape too, slowly (18 barrow loads of weeds to the compost heap yesterday!) but with renovation work on the kalivi already in full swing;
it’s hard to see beyond the bombsite it is at the moment, with wood, tiles and rubbish everywhere!
Best of all, I’m painting again – but no, not canvasses!
All the chestnut beams and wood panels for the roof have had a couple of coats of preservative. Thank fully I had some help (my daughter visited for a few days).
The kalivi is going to look so lovely, I’ve decided to use it as my studio, as it’s more conveniently situated, nearer the house – and the old one will revert to being a pretty cottage – more accommodation for guests.
With Easter week upon us – and early this year – there’s been a sudden burst of energy all over the island and it’s very infectious! Once again the familiar sounds of spring: chain saws, strimmers (along with the frogs and geese!) break the silence.
and the scent of pine and sweet fresh grass and meadow flowers fills the air:
Thank fully the weather has been absolutely glorious so much has been done, All over the town the sparkling street and newly painted houses, shops and tavernas are glowing and ready for business.
There was even a well-organised incentive to clean the beaches and for a week keen volunteers, Skiathites and expats alike, have made their way round the islands shore line, working like Trojans!
Lucky I managed to do some beach-combing and gather some driftwood before it all disappeared on the bonfires:
well you just never know when some old fishing net will come in handy!
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Skiathos has, over the years, been home to many ex-pat residents, some of whom married into local Greek families, some who came and left as quickly (and mysteriously!) as they arrived and some who stayed on and, through successive generations, continue to do so.
Sadly, of the first generation to arrive, back in the late 50’s/early 60’s, few are still with us today. Names are not forgotten but what is little known, is that many of them had quite exceptional and distinguished careers, before retiring to this peaceful little island.
Long before the days of celebrities evading prying lenses of the paparazzi, the more notable personalities came here in search of a peaceful, simple life with a quiet humility, hoping to live out the remainder of their days in relative anonymity. Almost fifty years on, however, I feel it would be sad if Skiathos continued to remain unaware of jut how distinguished many of its first residents actually were. Aside from names in the land registry deed books (still held in the archives on the Sporades capitol, the island of Skopleos) the only written record of them ever being here, as far as I know, is the ‘Skiathos, The Shaded Isle’ book, first published in 1972 and affectionately known as the ‘Blue book’(after three editions, it is, alas, no longer in print). Edited by Jack Causton, it was mine of local information: a compilation of articles on a variety of aspects of Skiathos life, as experienced by the then residents.
Few in number, I’d like, in time to provide an insight to each of their lives but first, one contributor, Elizabeth Irons, was a remarkable woman, the first woman war correspondent to have been decorated with the ‘Croix de Guerre’ and renowned for, amongst other things, having broken the heart of Vita Sackville West. Her fascinating life and distinguished career is well worth a read in itself (see Elizabeth Irons) but the reason I single her out now is because of her contribution, ‘Christos Anesti!’ (Christ is Risen) which is particularly pertinent with this being Easter week. Although much of what was written in 1972 has long since become outdated, in this case, with Skiathos’ Easter traditions remaining unchanged for centuries (falling as it does under the diocese of Mount Athos) and as my own accompanying photographs, taken this week, confirm, Miss Irons observations are every bit as valid and accurate today as they were when she first penned them, Here are some excepts:
“ The man on the bus said: “Christ rises this Sunday”. He was a middle-aged gentleman in a neat business suit and he spoke in a matter of fact tone as if he were telling me that the steamer Kyknos was due at four o’clock. There is no mystery about the resurrection here. Quite simply, it happens. As soon as the clock strikes midnight and Saturday becomes Easter Sunday. So it is a natural item of topical interest to mention to a stranger on the way from Tzaneria to the village………
…..April is not the best month of the year to be in Skiathos. Dark and evil caterpillars descend from the pines and march across the villa’s terrace, in endless single-line procession, like animated rope. Infecting humans with an intolerable itch. Because of the damp a lot of time is spent hanging the sheets out to dry. It is too cold to swim. But forget all that. The fields are carpeted with wild flowers, everything from lupins to pink and purple and dusky red orchis”.
“….Centuries before Christ died and rose again in Jerusalem, Greeks joyfully celebrated the return of Persephone from Pluto’s dark kingdom, and the greening of the land after winter. The roots of this April festival run deep. Easter is the crown of the Orthodox year, as Patrick Leigh –Fermor says in Roumeli, ‘It must be experienced’.
Visitors from all over Greece and beyond, travel from far and wide to celebrate the truly unique experience of a ‘Skiathos’ Easter.
……On that Thursday in Easter week, the day of the encounter on the bus, children roamed the streets carrying bamboo crosses
decorated with arum lillies
and the white irises that grow wild in the olive groves….”.
“In the grocer’s shop, amongst all the jabbering of the customers, a radio was broadcasting a church service; oblivious of their surroundings, two small boys chanted their responses.
It was a busy day for household shopping. Many people had been hungry ever since Clean Monday, the first in Lent, eating no animal product and this week, for the strictly faithful, even wine and olive were out too. Now they were beginning to lay in the supplies for the breaking of the great fast on Sunday…..”
After a chance to catch up with some old friends in the now bustling cafes along the waterfront:
I climbed the steep and narrow alleys of the old town to enjoy a delicious lunch of Shrimp Yiouvetsi, fried calamari, potatoes, salad and beans and peas in oil. lunch with my Greek friends:
in their festively decorated home:
Followed by an afternoon in a shaded courtyard town garden preparing the Stefani (wreaths) for the evening church ceremony.
Not everyone makes these. Traditionally, they’re only made by those who have miraculously escaped an accident or recovered from serious illness and they are a way of offering thanks for their (or their loved ones) lives being spared:
“Miraculously the sun shone. Freshly white-washed houses dazzled the eye; here and there a woman (or man) hurriedly splashed on the last of the asvesti: every wall must sparkle by Easter day”.
As I left for home in the now quiet streets,
deserted by all but the occasional sleepy-eyed alley cat:
I spotted Ian, a relatively new ‘expat’ and dear friend, happily continuing with tradition out side his new home: a beautifully renovated townhouse in the heart of the old town.
(to be continued……I’ll be back with more of the Easter festivities as they unfold)
Till then, ‘KALO PASKA!’ Everyone – Happy Easter!
(Oh, and Ian? You missed a bit!)