Life on a Greek Island (or two) by Jennifer Barclay. New May 2020: WILD ABANDON: A JOURNEY TO THE DESERTED PLACES OF THE DODECANESE. 'a delightful serendipitous journey along paths less well trodden... a must read for anyone who loves the Greek islands' - Richard Clark, author of The Lost Lyra and Return to Turtle Beach. 'a vivid and intoxicating account of these beautiful islands' - Victoria Hislop, author of The Island and other bestselling novels
Sleepy this morning, after staying up
late to watch Eurovision – or should I say #Eurovision, since it was the
Twitter banter that made it fun. If you haven’t seen it, the video for the
Greek Eurovision entry is hilarious – very different from what you’d expect. It
gives a nicely irreverent image to counter what people read in the news about
Greece. And unusually for Eurovision, it's not a love song but a drinking song.
[Apologies for the weird formatting issues in this post; I've tried to fix it so long it's giving me a headache. Hope it doesn't give you one.]
The video seems to have nothing to do with the title, 'Alcohol is Free', but the lyrics suggest it's all about one drunken night: the whisky's not to blame, it was the ice cubes... The band, Koza Mostra, said, 'Maybe people were drunk when they voted for us.' The moustache man, Agathonas, is a rebetiko folk singer, and those old rebetiko songs are often about intoxication of one kind or another.
While at our
traditional Greek dance class this week, I decided to find out the words to ‘To
Plataniotikio Nero’, one of my favourite dances partly because there are words
in the music, and the one intriguing phrase I’d managed to decipher so far is
‘I’ll drink til I’m drunk.’ A little more sedate than Greece's Eurovision
entry, ‘To Plataniotiko Nero’ is the first song in this video:
The song is from Samos: the singer is
living away and remembering his home, wishing he had water from the village of
Platanos (named after a plane tree) and wine from Kolona, an area with an
ancient column, remains of a temple. Here's a link to one set of lyrics in
I’d translate it (with help from
Stelios) as something like…
If I only had water from Platanos
Wine from Kolona
And if I only had my love
To kiss her on the mouth
The water from Platanos
Is the pride and joy of the village
And whoever passes by and drinks it
Comes back to life
Sweet wine of Samos
I’ll drink until I’m drunk
So that I don’t forget you
In the foreign lands where I now find
They say the water of
Platanos has leeches in it
But poor as it is
It also has beautiful women
of the lines are repeated. For example, another version of the song has this verse:
water of Platanos
water of Platanos
whoever drinks it
whoever drinks it
only a Samos girl
cures every pain
Well, I've never
been to Samos, but when I do, I'll be trying some of that (I mean the wine, not
marrying a Samos girl, obviously).
While hunting for information online, I
found an entry about a Cretan song with the same lines about the leeches and
the beautiful women. It’s a song from a small, traditional village called
Xirosterni, or Dry Cistern. The story goes that it was named during the Ottoman
occupation when a Turk demanded water from a villager, who said there was none
rather than serve the enemy. Now on 6 August, a local festival takes place with
Do you know more about any of this?
Please feel free to post a comment.
That’s all, folks. But if you’re
planning a trip to Tilos this summer and would like to pick up something light
to read while you’re here, then Falling in Honey: Life and Love on a
Greek Island (in which there are no drinking songs) is now on sale at
Mary’s Gifts on the seafront. The book is to be featured in the Mail on
Sunday’s YOU magazine in mid-July.
Some other random photos from this week, when we've had some clouds and rain in between hot sunshine... Isn't this lovely?
The chickens are growing...
All our own: lettuce, onions, carrots, tomatoes, capers...
And Lisa, contemplating life and then digging for victory!
Plus - a tiny cat.
for reading, and for the messages – it’s great to hear from people all over the
The time to gather rigani, or oregano, is when the white flowers come out, I've learned - that's when it's at its most pungent. So this week, we gather our rigani while we may - armfuls of the stuff, within a few minutes' walk from home - and hang it from the rafters of the empty building next door.
We couldn't resist gathering a last batch of capers, now filling two huge pans in the kitchen and giving off a strong smell. Thankfully, Stelios has been informed by a veteran caper-gatherer that picking it does the caper bushes good, like pruning a tree. We're already eating our first jar and it's well worth the effort.
The weather this month has been heavenly, and the sea warm enough for swimming. I've taking Lisa to a beach every day. She's as much of a beach bum as I am - she loves the sea.
Easter felt so different this year, because it was early May rather than April; the evenings going up to the church weren't dark and cold. On Easter Sunday we ate with Stelios' relatives - a wonderful feast including roast kid with delicious rice and liver stuffing, flavoured with plenty of fresh herbs. The priest was at lunch with us, and invited me to read out the evangelio in English that afternoon in the Sunday service, as it should be read in different languages. I immediately curbed my wine intake at lunch. Very proud to be part of Megalo Horio's celebrations, I braved the vomves or firecrackers exploding outside like a war going on; so loud the plaster started falling from the lovely ceiling of the church, which is painted with stars. The noise drowned out the resonant words about the disciples who saw Jesus come back from the cross, and Thomas who didn't, and said he wouldn't believe until he felt the wounds with his own hands. I tried to learn about the firecrackers, but Stelios and Vicky simply said 'it's a tradition' - like the burning of the Judas.
Our chickens are growing, though they seem to have developed a habit of hiding behind the coop when I arrive to feed them. This left-over spaghetti made them overcome their shyness, though.
And the tomatoes are ripening.
And while ye may, go marry... It's a perfect time of year for a wedding, and this Saturday was the wedding of Yota, the smiling face in the bakery, to her man from Crete - and what a spectacular evening it was up at Panayia Politissa, high on a hill overlooking Livadia bay.
As we queued up to congratulate the newly wedded bride and groom, I suddenly forgot what it is you're supposed to say, and asked Stelios.
'Na zeeseteh,' he said, and I repeated it to remember, 'Na zeeseteh' - meaning something like 'May you live long.'
'Keh tou chronou,' he continued, and again I repeated, 'Keh tou - hang on a minute!' I don't think so...
He grinned. He was trying to get me to tell them, 'And do the same next year!'
My lovely friend Eleftheria from Megalo Horio supermarket was giving out sugared almonds and heart-shaped melekounia, sweets made from sesame seeds and honey and orange.
Locals, residents and regular visitors were all invited to share the food and drinks and of course the music and dancing later. Occasions like these are a great opportunity to socialise.
Children ran around in their best clothes throwing rose petals and moving to the music. As it got darker, the atmosphere was magical, with the rugged hilltops all around us, and the smooth still bay far below, with the lights of the village in the distance.
We joined in a few dances, but had to leave before midnight. As we rode the motorbike back across the island, the sky above was filled with millions of stars.
Filoxenia: hospitality, love of strangers, inviting an outsider into your home and looking after them. No wonder it's a popular name for a place to stay in Greece.
In Tilos, Filoxenia apartments are a special place to stay, yet often overlooked because they're a kilometre from the nearest beach at Eristos. A five-minute walk down from Megalo Horio village, they're right on the kampos or plain of Eristos, the most fertile part of the island, surrounded by farms.
Filoxenia, set among vegetable gardens and fruit trees, was one of the places I'd stop off last summer to buy melons, tomatoes and peppers to supply the kantina. The family were so friendly and helpful. They always had a delicious-sounding menu outside for home-cooked, local food in their restaurant.
When I stopped by the other day, we chatted about the coming season and I heard the story of the live music. Apparently the family's grown-up son was practicing a classical piece on the violin one day when a group of women overheard him and wandered in. They asked if he would play again that evening. And so 17 women had dinner that night with a soloist performing Bach and Mozart for them, surrounded by lemon and orange trees in Tilos. If people ask me about a place to stay at Eristos beach, my immediate response is Eristos Beach Hotel - because I loved staying there myself, because it has pretty gardens and cute cats, because the family are so laid-back and most of all because of Maria's moussaka. I forget to mention Nitsa apartments, attached to En Plo restaurant (very popular with locals), also set back from Eristos Beach. Lisa and I walked past yesterday and their gardens were looking so attractive already...
On a slightly different note: Filoxenia is a concept so central to Greek custom and tradition that the world was shocked in April by the incident at Manolada in mainland Greece, which has come to be known as 'blood strawberries', when a farmer with a gun opened fire on a gathered mass of immigrant workers demanding their overdue pay. The episode cast a hideous light on the shameful rise of racism since austerity measures made life so difficult for so many Greeks (overdue pay being the rule rather than the exception these days), and perhaps it shocked people enough to have, in the long term, a positive impact. It seemed to me, therefore, the right time to give thanks to the generous people of Tilos for being so welcoming to outsiders. British, Italian, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Albanian - I'm sure I'm missing a few nationalities but you get the picture - all of us have come to settle here and been accepted, while others from Asia and Africa have worked here for a season or so, and all have made local friends and found a place in the community. It was a few years ago that dozens of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Palestine and Pakistan were left on the island with practically nothing, apparently by human traffickers using a Turkish boat. These islands in the east Aegean are one of the easiest borders to breach for those desperate to reach a new life in Europe. The unconventional arrivals were treated with friendly respect, according to accounts of those who were there; by Tilos' long-serving mayor, the late Tassos Aliferis (himself an outsider who made his home on the island) as well as other islanders. A few of the young boys from the Middle East ended up staying and working hard to become part of the funny old melting pot that is Tilos. It's the first of May, the official start of summer in Greece, and it's also Greek Easter week. Kali Protomayia, happy First of May. The island is already beginning to buzz with people who've come to celebrate Easter. It feels like it's already summer - we've had 30-degree temperatures this week, and have been swimming. The sea's been so calm and clear you can see the fish. It's a warm welcome to summer this morning. Glad I'm here to stay. Thanks, Tilos.