Sunday, 17 March 2013

Success can be judged in different ways


Walking the dog through the fields near our house, I’ve found a favourite place: just down the Potamia valley, covered by pine trees, are the remains of a bar that existed about ten years ago. The benches and tables are all still there, the fridges and the ‘entrance’ sign. As is the Tilos way, it’s all been left to the elements.

It’s a beautiful spot. Stelios says it belongs to his godparents, but they don’t live here now. There’s a little patch of grass where I imagine lying in summer.

Stelios remembers when it was one of three bars in Megalo Horio, and he and his friends used to go from one to the other. Now there are none, which is sad. There were more young people around ten to fifteen years ago, it was livelier.

It reminds me that the taxi run by Nikos and Toula has now shut down. They had to pay the same taxes and licence as a taxi driver on the busy island of Rhodes, making it financially unviable. So Tilos no longer has a taxi service.

We all know the signs of Greek island populations dwindling over the last half-century, and now the Greek diaspora has begun again, the economic crisis forcing people to move abroad to seek career opportunities.

The island could use a few more visitors, just as it could use a few more permanent residents, and more work. It’s good to see a new stone wall being built at the bus stop in Megalo Horio, with benches, mostly for the Russian tourists who visit the village by coach in the summer. An old workshop is being turned into a shop for traditional products. Our mayor will be able to oversee it all from her apartment window. The newly planted trees on Eristos Beach are also sprouting green growth, so there’ll be more shade for visitors this summer.

Down in Livadia, I’m saddened by the electric ‘Cretan Restaurant’ sign transforming what was lovely Irinna, but as I look down the seafront it’s hardly the only electric sign. Still, I wish they’d left it. That’s one of the reasons I love Omonia, under the trees off the square, as old-fashioned as ever year after year, with its hand-painted ‘We have a card-phone’ sign, yet constantly busy during the summer.

Some regular visitors to Tilos who remember the days when it was truly untouched are uncomfortable about developments such as high-speed internet. But unromantic as it is, I think it can help the island promote itself and flourish; promoting online is cheap. And it makes it possible for more people to live here year-round, and do simple things like check how late the big ferry from Athens is running.


The post office was closed for a week as the man who runs it had to go away; I rushed down there when it re-opened, but still no sign of my copies of Falling in Honey.

I remember back in the autumn, a couple of friends kindly read the bookproof for me to check if I’d made any big gaffes, and they gently asked whether it would be a good idea to change the name of the island. What if the book took off and the island was overrun with Brits?! I considered, but reasoned that the few it might bring would be good people, who would help the island to retain its character and traditions. I portrayed the place as it is, and that's not everyone's cup of tea.

A couple of weeks ago, an author friend who writes for a certain large-circulation British newspaper managed to get her editor interested in doing a story on my book; focusing on the twist in the tale, when I find out that the funny, generous, loving man I’d been planning to move to Greece with wasn’t coming with me after all. It was thrilling to think of the publicity. But they wanted to identify the real ‘Matt’, and focus on that part of the story, instead of the ending that I’m proud of, coming to Tilos alone after all. So, under advisement, I said no, and felt slightly sick for doing so. It could have mean a huge leap in numbers and attention – but would it have been the right kind?

And there’s a parallel there between what an island is prepared to do to promote tourism, surely. Like an obscure book from an unknown writer, a little-known island that’s hard to get to, like Tilos, needs to work hard to spread the word that it’s open for business. It has to look after the free campers on Eristos beach as well as the high-end Russian coach parties, because every little contribution from a new face on the island helps a family business.

But you don’t sell out. You stay the way you are. We love Tilos because it’s quirky; because of the old sofa outside the petrol station that closes for lunch; because if you turn up late at Omonia, Michalis tells you you’ll have to wait a long time to eat; because if the man who runs the post office has to go away for a week, the post office is closed; because even if there isn’t a taxi, you know someone will stop and offer a lift. If all this changed and the island did something drastic to bring in scads of package tourists, even built proper roads to the secluded beaches as I’ve heard suggested at times, the rest of us wouldn’t love it any more.


And so, happy to remain toiling in semi-obscurity myself, grateful for the kindness of friends posting reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and recommending to friends and book clubs, I’ve been writing articles and guest blog posts this week, pieces that I hope will keep the message positive. I’d love to have a successful book, but success can be judged in different ways. For an island, it’s keeping its character and still drawing tourists. For me, it’s when readers ‘get’ the book, when people see it as a message of hope, of making the most of life (because life is too short not to reach out for what makes you happy), of finding beauty in the simplest moments.

PS: I was down in Livadia last week one sunny lunchtime and talking with Lyn and Ian, and the dog was learning that cats don’t always play fair. Vassilis came over and asked the dog’s name. Lisa, I replied.

‘What, you call your dog rabies?’

It turns out leeza is how her name should be pronounced, not leessa, which does indeed mean rabies. Just as I was confused when it sounded like Stelios had been mending a leaky boat with pizza he found washed up on a beach; pissa is tar. 





21 comments:

  1. PPS In spite of everything I've written above, that doesn't mean I don't want Elizabeth Gilbert and Nia Vardalos to join forces and make Falling in Honey: The Movie. That would be OK too.

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  2. You came to Tilos because you liked it as it was. Those who try to support themselves from the resources of the island might like to see things changed. I feel the same way you do, but I am a Romantic and the romance of the world that once was is a wasting asset.

    As for naming names, travel writing is a three-party transaction: There is the writer, his readers and the people & places he is writing about, and we want to be considerate of all of them. If someplace is in the tourist business, or someone holds themselves out as a local character, I may mention them by name. And as for judging what is public and what is private, I think we ought not apply our own standards, but try to understand what the other person intended.

    Your mention of "Matt" reminds me that I first went to Greece because of a young lady who decided at the last minute not to go, but since she didn't make the trip she never figures in any of my stories, though I remain grateful all these years later that she caused me to go.

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    1. Thanks for contributing, but you misunderstand me - I'm not saying things have to stay the way they are, I'm saying small changes in the true spirit of the island are good for it.

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    2. PS - but I suppose I am also saying that Tilos' quirkiness and old-fashionedness and warm heart are its Unique Selling Points, and it must keep those in order for people to keep making a living from tourism.

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  3. I'd say Tilos already has a massive tourism. That is, massive for such a small island. BUT: I don't know any other island that has expanded tourism with such gentle hands. I really do hope that the new Mayor continues on that path.

    And all the Brits that your friends seemed a little bit scared of ;-), I would say they are "good tourists" (from my Swedish point of view). The Brits I have met in Tilos have been Tilos-loving people who take care of their paradise island.

    I first came to Tilos in 2001, and returned 1-2 times 2002-2003. Then I didn't go back until last year - and a lot had happened. Or not. There were more hotels of course, and the road in Livadia was blocked for cars (yey!) and there was this beautifully paved walk instead. Most of the restaurants were the same (after ten years!) and Michalis in Omonia even had the same shirt ;-).

    I finished your book yesterday, a really good read. The way you express your love for Tilos - and for Greece - is lovely. I guess very many of us share your dream - and you took the leap. I would say that it was a dangerous book to read. Very dangerous...

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    1. I love that 'dangerous read' - thank you! And I appreciate your thoughtful comments and observations...
      Warm wishes from Tilos!

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  4. Thank you Jennifer!
    Maybe I need to add a few lines, because I realize that what I wrote about tourism in Tilos might sound a bit negative. That is not what I meant, I loved what I found when I returned to Tilos last year.
    And in May, I'll be back. If you hear somebody singing Swedish songs in the restaurants - it's NOT me. I blushed a little when I read that ;-)...

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    1. Will you be here for Easter, or later in May? Whichever, it's a lovely time to be here.
      The Swedish singing in Eristos Beach Hotel was very strange!!
      Cold here this week, but the sun is shining...

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    2. I considered going for Easter, because it is late this year and the weather will probably be nice and warm. But in the end I decided to go later in May, for a real summer vacation. Last week of May and first two of June.

      I hope that the singers just not were drunk and singing about drinking, an embarrassing habit that we have. But I guess you would not have mentioned them in your book if that was what happened.

      I don't know who Vasilis is but about the adorable Lisa's name, why don't you tell him that her real name is βασίλισσα ;-)

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    3. Nice idea! And she acts like a princess most of the time anyway...

      No, the Swedish singers were very respectable and nice and the songs sounded quite formal - I was certainly intrigued!

      Ah, late May and early June... Can't wait for those early summer days!

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    4. Neither can I... I am not sure whether I have been in Tilos in May or if it is only September, but I have been on many other islands in late spring/early summer. And I love it. The light is bright, the days are long, it's getting warmer but everything feels still fresh.

      Maybe the singers were a choir, then. Not a professional one but people who sing together as a hobby. Sometimes they also arrange "choir trips".

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  5. You don't want anyone to make a movie about Falling in Honey, just look what a mess they made of that other great book Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
    Shame about Nicos taxi business, he helped us many times when we were stranded in Eristos,usually calling into his farm to give us eggs and potatoes before dropping us off in Livadia.
    Tilos needs people to visit the island in the present economic disaster but Vangelis used to say that there was too much land lying waste because nobody could be bothered to farm it - tourism had taken over.
    Typical of Vasili's humour about Lisa

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    1. I love the fact that Nikos gave you eggs and potatoes - a shame to lose that kind of taxi service, indeed!

      Yes, it's true that a lot of land is unused and Vangelis was a big proponent of getting that balance right. I don't understand it - if you saw the poor state of the vegetables on offer in the shops here in the winter, that's incentive enough to grow your own! Maybe people are doing more farming now as the economic crisis has made things that much tougher.

      Thanks for the comments - much appreciated!

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  6. Hopped over from Mamma J blog to say hi! I wish you well with your book it sounds wonderful and so does your island home.

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    1. Thanks so much, Suzanne! So glad the guest blog was interesting enough to bring you over here :-)

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  9. Hello,

    my name is Anna Roins and I just finished reading your article entitled, 'Writing to the sound of crickets' on EnetEnglish. I really enjoyed it. The tranquillity you must feel on Tilos translates into your writing.

    I too am living in Greece and find the light soothes my worries and writing sorts my rambling thoughts. I love that you're dating a fisherman.

    My mother comes from the island of Lesvos. A few years ago, I remember seeing an abandoned cantina on a beach near Agia Paraskeuvi, the village where she grew up. An artist in her 50's lived there during the summer with her younger lover, a shepherd and I must say I found the idea so beguiling; as was falling asleep on the sand nearby and waking up to a warm breeze and ladybugs all over me.

    It’s very difficult to describe the magic that Greece holds for me but I’m trying. I’ve been working on my first novel for over a year now. Thanks for inspiring me not to give up. I love the name of your blog and I have just subscribed.

    Anna Roins

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    1. Dear Anna,

      Thank you so much for your message. I'm glad you liked the article - I had fun writing it. But as you've gathered, it's easy writing about the joys of this island!

      I love the idea of the abandoned cantina in Lesvos - you make me want to go and find it. It's good to hear from a fellow writer and lover of life in Greece. Keep in touch.

      Warm wishes,
      Jen

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  10. Hi Jen,

    I absolutely agree with your idea of success. You have a written a lovely book about life on an idyllic island. It would be a great disservice done to the island if what you described gets lost in the hullabaloo of package tourism. The wanderers and explorers would anyway find Tilos and embrace her essence instead of destroying it.
    And I am ordering 'Falling In Honey' from Amazon. Wishing you more success in living the life you want.

    Warm regards,
    Micky (www.bunmaskachai.blogspot.com)

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    1. Thanks so much, Micky! Hope you like the book. I enjoy reading your blog also. Thanks for your comments.

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