Saturday, 20 July 2013

Tales from the Kantina - July at Eristos beach, Tilos

For those who think Eristos beach is for hippies, meet Nikos: a clean-cut, middle-aged mechanical engineer (now an out of work mechanical engineer, but that’s Greece in 2013). This is his second time in Tilos, and he comes for the tranquillity (Lisa, stop barking), the nature, somewhere peaceful to read a book. He learned English during three years of post-graduate studies in Ottawa; he says it’s rusty, but by the time we’ve discussed Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseas Elytis, the Antikythera Mechanism, Plato’s dialogue on etymology, theories on the Fifth Element… I’d beg to differ.

He’s been reading my book, and mentions that they now believe the Santorini volcano erupted earlier than previously thought; he says he likes the quotations at the beginning, and has translated the following lines from Elytis’ great work ‘To Axion Esti’ which he’s written down for me:

Then He spoke
And the sea was born
And in its midst he sowed small worlds…
Horses of stone with manes erect
And serene amphorae
And curved backs of dolphins…

Somehow, I’m not sure how, we get onto talking about the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient Greek device like an analog computer built in 100 BC. It combined the Egyptian solar and Greek lunar calendars to forecast the stars in the sky for many years, thus being an invaluable aid to navigation. It was only the size of a book, and although its wooden exterior had rotted away when it was discovered by sponge divers a hundred years ago, its intricate metal parts were still intact. They don’t make computers like they used to, eh?

Until recently, no-one knew what the strange object was – until advance X-ray analysis was done in Britain. Nikos draws me diagrams to show how the various cogs and wheels measured the orbits of the planets. They already knew the sun was the centre of our solar system, something we were taught was discovered in the 16th century. Nikos says the Ancient Greeks had also built the steam engine in Alexandria around that time, but it was destroyed when the Romans invaded. 

‘Imagine,’ he says. ‘Three hundred years after the steam engine was re-discovered in England, there was the industrial revolution. If an industrial revolution had happened back then… Man could have conquered space in 300 AD.’ This launches us into a discussion on the merits and demerits of so-called progress.

But I shall leave you with a joke, which Nikos told me to add to my Greek jokes collection:
What’s the most efficient way to stop a Greek from talking?
Tie his hands behind his back.

We've had some beautiful times at the kantina recently - evenings with cool breezes, cold wine, warm company. Friends from Austria and Sweden are back, camping on the beach or staying in the nearby Nitsa Apartments or Eristos Beach Hotel. And there are new friends from Athens. Andreas, who has brought along some good music to play. Christina, who spent hours playing with Lisa. 

Kostas owned a wine shop in Athens for seven years and has just had to close it as the restaurants and bars he supplied were no longer able to pay their bills; he's now out of work. Stavroula has work as a junior school teacher, but she's finding it harder to explain to some of the children why the school has to provide lunch for them. The couple will camp on Eristos with a budget of 15 euros a day for as much of the summer as they can. Psychologically, says Stavroula, it's good just to feel the ground beneath your feet every day. The area of Athens where they live - Exarchia, where I used to go for nights out when I lived there - is losing its spirit these days. She hands a posy of thyme she's gathered to Christina. 

The other Kostas and Koula left last night on the big ship back to Athens, so unfortunately we'll have no more of Koula's amazing desserts. We'll miss seeing Kosta going out snorkelling every day, and Koula creating beautiful things out of tin cans. But she's painted this fabulous sign for the new shop at the entrance to Megalo Horio, for a women's co-operative selling local products, opening soon:


The latest on FALLING IN HONEY - please share it around if you can! Fab coverage in the Mail on Sunday's You magazine:

Interview on Female First:

And a wonderful new cover for the US edition:


  1. I discovered your blog through Jenny's "An English Travel Writer" and find it very interesting!

  2. Dear Jennifer

    Have just read your book about tilos. I visited for many years and stayed in Seva's studios. I fell in love with the island and would have loved to have lived there but being married with a son and based in London was not possible. We stopped going 6 years ago because bought a house in France and couldn't afford both. I always felt bad that I never said goodbye to the people we knew (although they have probably forgotten us now). I would love to know what happened to them. Seva and her son Andonis, Panietos (don't know if this is how you spell it) who ran one of the small supermarkets in Livadia, Michalis and his wife and daughter Joanna where we ate everyday. There were so many lovely people we met and I will always remember them. You book brings it all back so vividly,
    best wishes

    1. Hi Nicola,
      Thanks so much for reading the book and for getting in touch. I bet the people you knew in Tilos would remember you if you came back! They are all still here - Seva makes us all laugh at dance class, and Andonis is currently vice-mayor, as well as doing a wonderful job of supplying food for our kantina (and so many other businesses on the island), Panayotis is still as jolly and nice as ever, and Omonia restaurant hasn't changed in the five years since I first arrived, thank goodness, though we don't eat there much this year as we can't take the dog. Glad to bring back good memories.

  3. Hi Jennifer,

    I have just finished reading your gorgeous book, absolutely loved it! I read the article in the You magazine and just had to read your book! I am completely in love with Greece anyway having recently visited Skiathos & Thassos but your book brought back lovely memories of the beautiful sights, smells, landscape and food.

    I just wanted to congratulate you on the success of your book & thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable read! I'm dying to go back to Greece, wish I had the courage to move there like you did!

    Maybe one day I'll visit Tilos and come and say hi! :)

    Adelle x

    1. Thank you, Adelle! Your message put a big smile on my face... Glad the book took you back to the Greek islands. Hope you will come to Tilos someday and say hi! I'll make the photos on this blog as tempting as possible...