Saturday, 26 October 2013

Goodbye Dimitri


Yesterday, 25 October, was a sad day. Our friend Dimitris Kassandrinos, head teacher of the secondary school in Tilos, left the island for the last time. 

Sometime in the afternoon of 24 October, he was in his car going up to the monastery of Ayios Panteleimonas with a German woman called Uta, who had recently become his girlfriend, when the car went over the side of a steep cliff, and both were killed. The authorities are investigating how it happened. He was noticed missing yesterday morning, and a local who keeps goats up that road saw something. A rescue team came in by helicopter and during the afternoon the two bodies were recovered from the deep ravine. 

Dimitris, originally from Volos, was around 50 years old and had lived in Tilos 11 years; he was a chemistry and biology teacher and in recent years was head teacher of the secondary school. He told me he wished I'd used his real name in my book. He visited his family in the area around Volos during school holidays and his mother came to stay during the winter.


When in Tilos, throughout the year, Dimitris spent most afternoons in the sea, fishing for octopus. When I first came to Tilos, he took me out snorkelling and introduced me to the hidden beaches and underwater life of the island, and drove me up to the monastery to see the sunset over the sea, a view he loved. Who knows, perhaps it was his last. Someone who had spoken to Uta said they were happy together.

Yesterday, as the sun went down, they were being taken down to Livadia. In the evening, under a sky full of bright stars, the Milky Way clearly visible, a boat came to take them away.

Today, 26 October, he would have been celebrating his name-day. It being a Saturday, he would undoubtedly have been out in the sea somewhere. I walked up the monastery road to see where it happened - a beautiful place - and then down to Plaka, to the little bay on the promontory. I'd brought my snorkel with me. I saw anemones with their wavy orange hair, a small eel's ribbon-body curling around a rock, and even a beautiful fikopsaro with a tail so fine and silver it looked like a needle. And all the sea creatures he showed me how to find...

Kalo taxidi


Saturday, 19 October 2013

Tales from Megalo Horio



The kantina is closed and locked up, moved off Eristos beach in preparation for winter storms; the weather is mild; the busy days of travelling and moving house are over. In the words of Italian yoga teacher Anna, who was kindly giving classes this month: 'Now relax the body, and breathe normally.' 



I've been somewhat distracted by the beautiful view from my new office - and particularly by the little church, the ekklisaki, just below my window. I've always rather liked it, and now I'm a little obsessed. Inside, there's an oil lamp burning, and frescoes covering much of the walls and ceiling.

The village of Megalo Horio is built into a hillside that's littered intriguingly with stones from many centuries of inhabitation. The house that we are renting, although the front additions are quite modern, has a stone archway on the main part of the house, with '1868' painted over, and the courtyard has a couple of old millstones lying about. Doorways down the alley have what look like early Christian crosses above them, while others have Turkish inscriptions.



I took Lisa for a walk up to the castle a couple of days ago. She was indulgent about my need to take photographs and inspect the fading frescoes of old chapels, now exposed to the elements, on the way up. She noted that I didn't need quite so many photo stops on the way down. It's surprising what a steep old path it is; it was clearly meant to make access by invaders as tough as possible. People used the fortress at the top to retreat to in times of danger, but lived lower down the slopes, between the castle and the current village.

From the clouds, it was clear that rain was coming, but there was enough bright sunlight to make for spectacular views, as always, from the medieval walls built over an ancient acropolis.



(They don't build things like they used to, it seemed on the way down...)


Yesterday, having finished my deadlines for the week, I thought I'd pop down to the museum to see if Vicky knew anything about the church. Of course she did. She confirmed that it is dedicated to Ayios Ioannis Theologos, St John the Theologian, whose monastery is in Patmos. 


As to its age, she said it was 'post-Byzantine', or medieval. I thought it must be old, I said, because it's built on top of one of the old walls made of massive stones. 'The wall is Hellenistic,' said Vicky, 'from the time of Alexander the Great.'



'All these little churches were privately owned,' she continued. 'That one was in the family of Stelios's father's uncle, Apostolis Logothetis. He was a teacher, and during the Italian occupation he was persecuted because he taught Greek secretly. It was against the law to teach Greek, or even to speak it on the main street here.' She gestured to the road through Megalo Horio, underneath the museum. 

'Because the Greek language was forbidden, and only Italian language was taught, gradually the parents took their children out of school. When I met my mother-in-law, she was illiterate.' 

Up the steps to where we were standing walked Polixeni Logothetou; in her late eighties or so, always dressed in black and with a few friendly words to offer, she was carrying her wooden walking stick in a jaunty fashion over her shoulder, a bag of vegetables hanging off it. Vicky told her I was asking about the little church, and she confirmed its connection to Apostolis Logothetis. 'Polixeni knows,' said Vicky, 'she is one of Stelios's father's godparents - one of seven.' 

'Ah, the old folks, they're all gone now!' said Polixeni with slightly misty eyes, then proceeded on her way to cook lunch.

So the little church continues, having seen much history. This morning just after eight, one of the village ladies stopped to say hello outside our house, crossing paths with Menelaos who was carrying bags of shopping and getting a morning welcome from Lisa the affectionate semi-Labrador. 'Where are you going, neighbour?' asked Stelios. 'Well, I'm going to Theologos, and then to do some jobs...' She disappeared inside the church.

Shortly after, I was pondering the strange things you hear shouted across the alleys and rooftops here from time to time ('The mulberries are at the house!' - surely some secret code...) when Vicky arrived to give me some decorations for the house, old embroidered cloths, handmade. As she left, she pointed to a stone by our gate, one I've been thinking looks like a carved chunk of old marble with a hole for a wooden gate-post. 'This is ancient,' she said, and continued in a hurry to go and open the museum.

Well, the sun is shining in a clear sky, so we must be off to enjoy the day...



***

NB: For those interested in houses to rent or buy in Megalo Horio, I'm gradually putting some information on the News page of the blog.

****

My Facebook photos of the walk we did today!
https://www.facebook.com/jen.barclay.33/posts/10151967376785803



Friday, 4 October 2013

Moving, and a Museum


Hard as it is to believe, this week we are leaving the house next door to the honey factory. A few weeks ago, I tasted this summer's honey, and it was delicious. Sadly, I'll no longer be able to crack jokes about life being sweet when you live next door to the honey factory...



When I first came here two and a half years ago, this house was just perfect for me. But now there's a fisherman who's been known to clomp in trailing seaweed from his wellies, dripping bloody saltwater from a plastic bag full of freshly cleaned fish while I'm in the middle of editing a book, or on a Skype call to a client; now there's a half-Labrador sprawling herself across the sofa. Life has not stood still, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

I've been keeping an eye out for a bigger place for the last year, but nothing felt quite good enough to draw me away from the pleasures of living in the middle of nowhere, with no noise outside at night that isn't a bird or insect, and no lights to detract from the millions of stars up above. 



Then during the summer, Antonis from Megalo Horio asked me if I'd take some photos of a house he had in the middle of the village and put them online to see if he could find a buyer or tenant. I looked around and thought, hmmm. The problem with the current house is that it's basically all one big room with a mezzanine, and call me a wimp but I don't like being woken up at fisherman o'clock by cigarette smoke. The house in the village still has a view of the sea and hills, but it also has... an office for me. This could make life in the Barclay-Logothetis household rather less frosty on certain days. And being in the middle of Megalo Horio should bring a whole new set of stories.

So we're moving, though in true Tilos style, it's happening slowly, as we have to wait for Yianni the internet technician to return from some travels and connect us up in the new place. I can't complain as I was away the weeks before, in Crete and then Athens.

In fact, Stelios and I went to Athens together, leaving Lisa with her cousin Ari, a German shepherd or 'wolf-dog' who lives with Tilos's well-loved former taxi drivers, Nikos and Toula. Our mission was to see doctors; all those tests I've been having are to investigate why I've miscarried three times in the last two years. We had appointments with a few doctors, to get information and perhaps choose one to go forward with. 

The week was sometimes difficult, of course, but it was an important thing for us to go through as a couple. And we enjoyed relaxing together - something we haven't had time to do all summer, since BC (Before Cantina). We found a room at the lovely Phidias hotel in Thissio, so peaceful you'd hardly know you were in central Athens. 



On the last day I had to give blood in the morning and then prepare for possible investigative surgery in the afternoon, which meant not consuming anything all day until we saw the doctor. I am not good at being hungry and thirsty, especially when nervous. While wandering around Athens looking for distractions, we came across a museum of folk art/decorative arts; not usually our thing, perhaps, but for 2 euros a person we decided to give it a try. 

Although the museum (www.melt.gr) sadly lacked explanations and details of the customs involved, exhibits included local dress from many parts of Greece, including Tilos. Most fascinating for me were the elaborate, heavy, metalwork of the women's head-dresses, some originating from the Dodecanese, and the intricate carving of everyday objects like distaffs for weaving. 




  

There was also a whole section devoted to one of my favourite Greek artists, Theofilos, who painted everyone with a smile and a moustache.



The last doctor we saw - with a moustache but not much of a smile - definitely wasn't for me, so I didn't have the surgery with him after all. He showed a bizarre lack of understanding of what it might be like for a woman to be still crazily trying to have a child at the age of 44. At least he provided me with a nice emotional opening to a story I've just drafted this morning, which the Daily Mail have expressed interest in publishing (fingers crossed).

It's very windy outside today, but brilliant sunshine, and the first rain of autumn on Monday has made everything feel fresh and alive. Time to go and walk the lovely half-Labrador Lisa, and maybe pack or unpack some boxes. 

**

PS We just walked my bike up to the new house - Lisa is delighted that it's no longer 35 degrees outside - and found a lovely welcome note from a reader who's in Tilos this week. Thank you! Here are some more photos of/from the new house... That's a lemon tree in the courtyard!