Monday, 27 August 2012

A Glimpse of Festival Season in Tilos

A couple of days after the festival of Kamariani at the little monastery on the north-facing cliffs of Tilos, our village of Megalo Horio holds a koupa, a night of dancing in the square by the church. The koupa is a cup where men put money to pay for dances, and it's a night for locals but also for anyone who wants to join in. The evening starts with the musicians up in the kafeneion, and everyone getting into the spirit of things with food and drink. Then when it's time, they start to head down the stairs, still playing and singing along the way...

... and into the square, where they finish off the song, and the ladies who have been sitting patiently to guard the best seats for the last couple of hours can finally get ready to dance.

This was a lively koupa, not too crowded and everyone enjoyed the dancing, none more so than our jolly, friendly priest, who gave the young lads a run for their money. I even got to dance with Nikos, best known to most as the travelling barber; Stelios always says his dad dances very well but very rarely, so I was lucky he kept his promise and was a very gallant dance leader.

The next day marked the start of the 'Honey Festival' to celebrate island culture, held up at the Messinia Amphitheatre, better known as Harkadio Cave, where the elephant bones were excavated. Stelios decided that Team Kantina would do the souvlaki barbecue at the entrance, so at dusk we were chilling drinks and turning juicy skewers of pork over the hot charcoal grills for hungry and thirsty dancers and audience...

Once we'd fed and watered the masses, I sneaked away to watch the traditional dance performances: the children...

... and the ladies' group, of which I am usually one, but have missed August's lessons because of kantina duties...

And the older teenagers, who were breath-takingly brilliant...

This morning, 27 August, the singing of the service for St Fanourios could be heard all around Megalo Horio. As I found out this time last year, he's the saint of lost things. Tilos lost some good people earlier this year, but its traditions are strong, keeping the community together.


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

More Tales from the Kantina - Summer on our Tiny Greek Island

There hasn’t been much time for further tales from the kantina. I’ve joined the ranks of islanders who spend all summer running around for work; I watch tanned, relaxed people strolling down the road to Eristos, when I am driving past with a dust-coloured car full of ice cubes, bottles of water, 5-kilo bags of tomatoes, crates of oranges and empty aluminium cans for recycling. But it brings home the fact that when they all go back to Athens, or England, I get to stay and can spend the next few months strolling again.

It’s strange to see Eristos beach busy. The free camping really seems to be a hit this year, perhaps not surprisingly; people keep coming to the kantina and asking if there’s anywhere else to camp, as all the best spots are taken. This is good, of course, for the kantina. We’ve been tiring ourselves out making coffees and sandwiches, juices and hamburgers. And on the days when I’m not rushing home to do my proper job, it’s wonderful to hand over to Stelios, walk down the beach and plunge into beautiful blue sea.

The groups of friends congregate each morning for their usual coffee with its little variations; I’ve learned that there’s not just ‘medium’ and ‘sweet’ coffee but also ‘medium towards sweet’ and ‘medium towards bitter’. Occasionally, when I can’t quite catch what someone is saying in Greek and they roll their eyes at my inability to understand, I’ve felt ‘medium towards bitter’. But often these days someone tells me they like the fact that I am always smiling, and it makes my day very sweet.
In the evenings, there’s always a ‘beach volley’ match right in front of the kantina, which Stelios joins in until he gets called away to make someone something to eat. Others watch the match with a drink in hand, or play Frisbee or read books, and the kids are setting up little stalls selling bead jewellery they’ve made, or painted stones; I bought a lovely heart-shaped one today.

One day the bay was dominated by three huge private boats, apparently belonging to a Russian aluminium tycoon – I wonder if he wanted our recycling? Another day the excitement derived from a tiny grey and white kitten wearing a pink necklace, which arrived with a large Greek man called Costas, but was promptly lost – there are rather a lot of dogs camping too, which didn’t bode well – and was only found again at the end of the day.
While my mum was staying at the end of July, we went to the new museum near Charkadio Cave, open temporarily over the summer. A nice woman had come from the university in Athens to explain the exhibits, and she was excited as she had already spotted some rare species of falcon nearby. I learnt that at around the same time the last elephants in Europe were living here in Tilos, there were also hippos in Crete, and various other elephants and hippos on islands in the middle of the Mediterranean. The elephants here died out after a nearby volcano erupted – not just suffocated by ash, but unable to find food or water that wasn’t contaminated. With 38 skeletons excavated, Tilos is the richest site of fossil pygmy elephants in the world, and it even has its own species, elephas Tiliensis.
The festival of St Pandeleimon happened in late July also and we took the bus up to the monastery. Then a couple of nights later, we went to the Koupa in Megalo Horio, easier as we could walk there and home again. Because the village square outside the church was so packed full of people, Mum and Anna and I danced on the roof of the town hall.
A few days ago I remembered it was the month for figs.  Hippocrates at the Eristos Beach Hotel, where we’ve been going to eat regularly because they make the most heavenly moussaka, gave me a handful of ripe figs one evening and I realised I wasn’t doing my usual walks past fig trees. I initiated my Tilos Hit-and-Run instead: stop the car on the dirt track, leave the engine running while I grab a few off the tree, eat on the way home. And sometimes there's time to make a salad from the garden.
Perhaps my favourite moment this month was when we had a power cut one night. The sky was so incredibly bright with countless stars, and the Milky Way like a splash of white paint across it, and all was quiet.