Hello, from a very wet, very cold and eerily quiet island!
What a difference just a fortnight makes! At the start of this month Skiathos was still buzzing with tourists, the sun shone high in clear blue skies, tavernas were full and lively and tills at the local supermarkets continued to ring-up (albeit more modestly this year) shopping bills at a constant pace. Sunbeds and umbrellas, closely positioned side by side (a little too closely perhaps!) stretched the length of the beaches and, while the brightly painted ‘Day Tripper’ boats bobbed with the tides, in unison all the way along the old port, the incessant road traffic, including over-crowded buses, manic taxis and a multitude of mopeds, continued to dash back and forth, from one end of the island to the other, night and day.
Now, barely 2 weeks after the last charter plane has left, carrying the last of the summer visitors up into the blue, Skiathos has officially closed it’s doors, and is in the throes of battening down, making ready for the winter. All businesses outside the town have closed and are now boarded up, the beaches (and roads) are empty, virtually deserted. Silence (save from the odd cockerel, barking dog and bleating goat) reigns.
The pace of life has slowed almost to a complete standstill and the islanders, with another hectic ( if not altogether successful) summer season behind them, finally have their beautiful island back once again. Its time now to harvest the olives (which, following all the recent rainfall, promises to bring in a bumper crop this year!) to clear the land, set bonfires alight and get back to the traditional island business of hunting & fishing, building and bonding again with families and friends, little seen through the busy summer months. Its time for weddings, baptisms, celebrating the saints and enjoying a well-earned rest.
We’re often asked how we cope; “Don’t you feel lonely?” ” Don’t you get bored?” etc.
Not a bit! Personally, I love this time of year and after all the excitement (of this year in particular!) believe me, the thought of going into hibernation is very inviting.
‘Bored?‘ Never! I relish the opportunity to catch up on some much-needed sleep, to read the books that have sat untouched on the bookshelves all summer, and to finally be able to retreat into the studio and transfer onto canvas, without interruption, all the creative ideas that have been running around inside my head all year, just bursting to be expressed – there still just aren’t enough hours in the day!
‘Lonely?” Hardly! For it’s also a time to spend quality, unhurried time with old friends, catching up, hiking in the hills again or sharing pizzas on giggly girls nights out; for leisurely visits, filled with laughter and storytelling and putting the world to rights, idling away the hours in the now plastic sheeted port cafes or around the open fires of their remote mountain, winter hide-aways. We visited both Tsipliarakis brothers in their respective hilltop farms recently. At each place I was completely and pleasantly surprised! Perched on the very top of neighbouring mountains, their traditional homes enjoy almost total isolation and such incredible far-reaching 360 degree views, so far off the beaten tracks that few even know they exist! It was a privillege indeed to be invited up to visit..
First, we visited Apostolis (from Kastro beach):
At such high altitude, the terrain felt almost alpine! The flat plateaus made perfect grazing for his sheep
Next, we visited our old friend Stavros (from Kechrya), the artist/sculptor:
We were thrilled at the rare opportunity of seeing some of his work, and tools, in his studio:
If ever there’s need of a break and some fresh air, in the welcome silence, the island calls once again to witness its outstanding natural beauty, as autumn draws in. Suitably booted and waterproofed and with our new addition to the family: ‘Percy’, the puppy, at my heels:
we take to the hills to marvel at swathes of glorious lilac as the heather and the late flowering roses burst into bloom; to soak up the heady scent of now deep red wet earth; to witness the rapidly ripening red berries of the strawberry trees (kumara: arbutus) that line the hillsides and to trample the steamy forest floors, knee-high in soggy leaves, traversing the rapidly swelling stream beds and carpets of wild cyclamen, under the dripping branches of the koukounaries pines, plane and oak trees:
As I write, its late afternoon and we’re snug and cosy once again, in this little white house with its heavy wooden shutters tightly closed against the north wind. It is already dark outside. The sun tried in vain all day to peek through the thick low-lying cloud. Thankfully, the last two week’s constant heavy rainfall and electrical storms have passed but they’ve given way instead to a thick gloomy mist which has settled like a damp, grey blanket over the island…. but not our spirits! We’re settled in for the evening with our other new addition to the menagerie (Piccolina the kitten) purring contentedly on my lap:
and the smell of wet dog mingled with the intoxicating aroma of burning olive and almond wood, filling the room:
It’s a good time for reflection…to look back on the year. Its been a year of very mixed emotions.
There was the initial excitement at the outset, followed by the continual eager anticipation felt throughout the nine months of planning our imminent family event. Back in early spring, after the awe-inspiring Easter festivities, there was the keenness and infectious enthusiasm to clean up the beaches and forests, to make ready the island for the season that lay ahead. There was the pride in working closely with the Syllogos-Skiathos (the Society for the Protection and Conservation of the islands) and participating in their ongoing programme for a ‘sustainable Aegean’; we protected the threatened Sea Lily ‘Pancratium Maritimum’, discovered on Skiathos’ beaches:
There was the added pride in helping to organise several heartwarming events such as the ‘Art-a-thon’, back in July:
and last weekend’s ‘tree-planting picnic’, at Koukounaries:
Once again, it was in conjunction with Alki (the local Society for Children with special needs):
The children planted several Koukounaries pine trees and enjoyed a picnic:
before spending the rest of the morning painting and playing games on the beach.
Both events were ‘trial runs’ in preparation for Skiathos hosting next years ‘Special Olympics’ team, thanks to the Special Olympics Organising Committee in Athens and Viki Santikos (of Santikos hotels: the Skiathos Princess and the Aegean Suites) .
There was plenty of frustration too, most keenly felt during the building works undertaken last spring:
but that was soon forgotten once this year’s artists and visitors began to arrive. This lead to a summer filled with new challenges, new friends and a satisfying sense of purpose and achievement:
Finally there was the sheer joy as family and friends came together, from all over the world, to share our happiness at our daughter’s wedding:
Yes, all in all, it’s been quite an emotional year!
But with every high comes the inevitable low. There was also a huge sadness felt by the sudden loss of a dear friend, immediately after our happy event. Richard Buchanan-Dunlop, a fine, true and self-effacing gentleman, passed away on September 19th. As one of the first expat ‘pioneers’ to settle here over 50 years ago and live out his retirement years on his ‘beloved Skiathos’, he was such an intrinsic part of our lives here that his passing has left a great void… representing, as it does, the end of an era……
Many regular readers will have come to know him not only as the charming, witty man and fellow artist the he was, but also as a poet for I often took the liberty of quoting some of his beautiful poems here. I think its fitting therefore that he should have the last word. So I’ll leave you with his “Spring’s Farewell‘ which, while ironic, is, nevertheless, strangely, comforting too…….
“I’m not here
I left the world a while ago
And you are now alone
Its for you to see what is
To gather up the threads
I’m no longer here
I’ve played a game with time
But I have always lost
Time knows the rules but always wins
It has no handicap
I have passed along
My place has now been taken
By someone else’s season
You must make new friends
For life must carry on
I have winged my way
To other worlds than this
And left you on your own
I’m not here
The purple buds have bloomed
And flowers have come and died
The sun is not my friend
I have found a haven for my soul
A place to rest
A place to watch my children grow and die
Until time wings its course
And once again my time will come
To bring new life to you
So farewell my friends
I wish you all good health
Whilst I’m not here”
Farewell, our dear friend, it was such an honour to have known you,