Saturday, 29 April 2017

April 25 – Boat stories

(The Bellatrix in Petra)

Yesterday was a black day for the island, when at least 16 refugees drowned during a failed crossing from Turkey to Lesvos. Only two women were fished out of the cold water, one of them pregnant. Now though the blue sea smiles at me, pretending to be innocent, but I know that she remains a dangerous thing, and not only for refugees.

Lesvos used to have mighty fleets with fishing and transport ships, with important commerce overseas (Plomari only once had a fleet of more than 200 cargo ships). There were various places on the island where you could buy new boats; the ship yards of Plomari were famous for a special kind of boat: trechantiria. Wooden boats, of course, the craft of building them going from father to son. Nowadays ships are made of different materials and the traditional fleet of wooden vessels shrinks by the day. Also European laws seem to militate against traditional built boats.

The shipyards of the island suffer with the same history. Only in Skala Loutron will you see boats docked. But that is for reparation or maintenance, because who is interested in having a new wooden boat? In Plomari, Sigri or Skala Loutron you might see, now and then, a ship simply docked in the street. There are plenty of islanders still having the skill to keep those old rigs going.

Entire forests used to be cut for the ships. And, until not long ago, the resin from pine trees was tapped and used amongst other things to waterproof the boats. All those industries have gone and even though Greece still has a leading role in international shipping, the huge tankers and container ships are not made of wood anymore, nor produced in Lesvos.

Maybe Lesvos tried one last time to compete with its neighbour Chios (where most of the mighty Greek shipping families come from): in 1972 NEL Lines was founded, a socialist company where all islanders could buy a share. The company grew and was one of the regular ferry services sailing the Aegean Sea with 8 ships. But the new century and her crisis only brought misery. The ships grew old and now they no longer even serve their home island. Last week, one of their ships, the Virgin Mary of Paros, sank in the Spanish harbour of Algeciras. Since 2012 this ship was chartered by a Moroccan company to serve as a ferry between the cities of Tarifa and Tangier. But the ship was too big and was latterly anchored in the harbour of Algeciras, where it remained because then Nell Lines already had plenty of problems. During the last few years all their big passengers ferries - Mytilene, Taxiarchis, Theofilos and European Express – were taken out of service and now you can only see the Kenteris I, II en III speeding somewhere over the Aegean waves.

The sea between the coasts of Eftalou and Turkey is not only dangerous for refugees. Somewhere in the middle a mountain peak under water, like a treacherous, invisible iceberg, reaches to the surface and many a boat has been trapped there.

Last February the 17th: the Togo registered Bellatrix, belonging to a Turkish company, did not pay attention and BANG, a collision with the famous peak stopped the boat in the middle of the sea. After the cargo of grain – destination Izmir – was loaded onto other ships and the emergency services got the boat floating again, it had to go to Petra, to undergo some repair and wait until the Greek authorities thought the ship was fit enough to continue its journey. Now, either the boat has lots of failures, or its captain rather likes to watch football, because the fact is that only two months previously, on December 4, 2016, the Bellatrix also got stranded, this time in the Russian Azov Sea, nearby Yeysk.

I presume the Greek authorities must also have some doubts, because the boat still only moves (when the salt and war ships need to dock) between the port of Petra and the middle of the bay. Now the rusty ship almost seems to belong to the landscape. Had this have happened in Holland, there would be plenty of entrepreneurs grasping a chance to open up a brilliant business: what a marvellous place to have a cafe or restaurant - it's huge deck offering a splendid view over Petra and Molyvos. But here in Greece, where having a business means years of fighting against an opaque wall of rules, you can forget about such a project. In Greece, so lumbered by its crisis, it is a nightmare to start a business, especially an unusual one. So the Bellatrix continues to float around: wasting money instead of earning money - until, just like the Virgin Mary of Paros, it sinking to the bottom of the Aegean Sea.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2017


Monday, 17 April 2017

April 14 – A mad neighbour

(Turkey seen from Eftalou)

Spring is in the air and everywhere they mop, sweep, paint, mow, prune and brush: Lesvos slowly enters a new season full of surprises. Once again a new ferry connection between Petra and Turkey has been announced (at the moment there is only one, between Mytilini and Turkey). This has happened so often that everybody just thinks: “ I’ll believe it when I see it”. Moreover the much wanted ferry is not coming at a fortuitous moment: German and Dutch people are not particularly welcome on the other side of the Aegean. The Turkish ‘Sultan’ is looking for troubles with the island, as proven by daily violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets, with the biggest provocation being a Turkish helicopter flying above Mytilini for some minutes.

As far as I know the Greeks – if they do not have any connection with the Gülen-movement – can shop what they want in Turkey without being afraid. I’ve not heard of any Greek having an account at the wrong bank in Turkey and now cannot return home (like it happened to tens of Dutch/Turkish and German/Turkish people who are not allowed to go back to Holland or Germany anymore). Not all Turks seem to be afraid of the tensions created by the Sultan because they still come to visit Lesvos. Although I wonder which people they are, who still get issued a visa allowing them to travel abroad.

The Sultan would love to occupy this beautiful island (and others lying close to Turkey’s coast). Millions of years ago Lesvos was attached to the country that flies the red flag with a shrinking moon and a star. The remains of dinosaurs and mammoth-like elephants prove that Lesvos once belonged to a mainland. Much later mighty Ottomans ruled the island for a few centuries. That is right. But they ruled from an enormous empire that stretched as far as the Arabian countries up to Israel/Palestine. Those countries the Sultan has not claimed yet, has he? And has Mister Sultan forgotten his history? Before the Ottoman empire, plenty of Turkish regions were inhabited by Hellenic people (that is why there are so many Greek temples in Turkey). But we already knew that the Sultan is not good in history.

Just like Bashar Al-Assad is ruling his beautiful country with I-do-not-know-what-kind-of craziness, the Sultan also seems to be leading his country towards a steep ravine. More and more tourists no longer feel comfortable in Turkey, thousands of people, not to the Sultan’s taste, have been arrested, bank accounts are frozen and the economy wavers. Maybe the Sultan no longer knows how to get Syrian people to make the dangerous crossing on leaking dinghy's towards Europe, if he continues like this there may soon be another refugee fleet of creaky boats coming to the island this time with Turkish people.

Of course there always have been tensions between Greece and Turkey. This is nothing new. For example it has not always been possible for tourists to make the crossing from the Greek islands to Turkey. The atmosphere depends on the rulers and for sure the Sultan is now steering towards a pretty dangerous horizon. It wouldn’t take much to happen and the ferry line between Petra and Turkey can be closed again.

It was not that bad living under Ottoman rule. Due to its great nautical and mercantile traditions Lesvos earned lots of privileges and became one of the wealthier areas in the Levant, doing business in a great part of the world, trading in olive oil, soap, wine and ships. When the Greek flag again was raised on the island, the wealth melted like ice in the sun and lots of factories and impressive houses now remain only as silent witnesses of this golden century of Lesvos.

A few years ago Lesvos became one big geopark (Unesco), but that has not brought masses of tourists, as it has to the Nature Parks of the United States, and so ‘new times’ of great economy – (partly because of the Greek crisis) has not come. Additionally there are people that think that refugees are still hiding all over the island behind the great tapestry of flowers the red poppies, the pink tamarisks, the many coloured anemones, the blankets of orchids. Yet, when you climb up green Olympus and cast your eye along the capricious coasts of the Gulfs of Yera and Kalloni, when you become enchanted in the mountains above Plomari or clean your spirit on the deserted beaches around Sigri, you will not meet a single soul (meaning also no refugees).

Were I ever to become Sultan, I would immediately take Lesvos and make it a private island. All ingredients for a paradise are here: mysterious caves, gurgling waterfalls, steep mountains with jungle-like vegetation, all the fruit you could wish for and everything surrounded by the wonderful blue Aegean sea. The Turkish mainland boarding the Aegean is growing, so with a bit of time, the Sultan will not even have to move one finger before Lesvos will be touching Turkish soil. Although, that will take lots of patience because the land is growing at only about 1 mm a year. That the country is shifting is proven by all the earthquakes felt in the Lesvorian region, whose epicenters are mostly to be found in Turkey.

Long before that will occur, the island is entering a new season. Spring has been late, yet came pretty hastily when she decided to come, causing an explosion of flowers. The island is now at her prettiest, even though there are regions which are clearly too dry for this time of the year and are not so generous with flowers as other years.

But Lesvos is rich with water sources and will not be quickly defeated by the warming up of the earth. Just as the inhabitants keep on combatting the crisis. After all bad things that have happened the island has now been given a present, and this from the Sultan. Tourists who do not want to go to Turkey may venture out and to look for new holiday destinations under the same sun, and of course the new ferry line from the most touristic region of Lesvos to the country of the Sultan, where a Greek temple and the twin sister of Molyvos, Assos, are waiting. Or could this new ferry line bring hundreds of Turkish tourists to the island? Let's hope that this will then not turn out to be a Trojan horse.

(Last week came also the announcement of a new ferry line, a fast one, between Mytilini and Dikili)

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2017



Monday, 27 March 2017

March 23 – The Gauguin of Lesvos

(from Theophilos; photo: internet)

Greece 1965. That summer the country was experiencing a political crisis - the king having dismissed the socialist government. Setting up a new one caused demonstrations and riots in Athens. Amidst this chaos a large delegation of art lovers and some foreign consuls made their way to the island of Lesvos: on August 29th the Theophilos Museum would be opened in Varia, a little town now better described as a suburb of Mytilini.

The whole idea for this museum started with the friendship between a neurologist and an art book publisher, both coming from the same island as Theophilos. Angelos Katakouzenos was born in 1904 in Mytilini and went to France to study psychiatry. In 1925 he met Stratis Eleftheriade (Teriade), a Lesvorian who lived in the midst of the fancy art scene in Paris. Katakouzenos was also an art lover and many Parisian nights were spent in discussions about Picasso, Miro, Chagall, Matisse and others.

When, after ten years, Katakouzenos returned to Athens, he saw the work of Theophilos Chatzemichael and introduced this folklore artist to his friend Teriade, who also immediately liked the charming and colourful work of the artist. Theophilos had been crazy about history and often dressed up like Alexander the Great, but he had also warmly reproduced rural scenes where farmers and other countryfolk toiled: the Gauguin of Lesvos.

A year after Theophilos' death, in 1934, Teriade exhibited some of Theophilos' works in that temple of all musea: the Louvre. Katakouzenos began to dream about a museum on Lesvos and persisted in reminding Teriade about this project, but the Second World War and the following civil war in Greece made it impossible. Every week, together with his wife Leto, Katakouzenos received artists, writers and other art lovers in his living room in Athens. In 1947 he exhibited some of the works of Theophilos, but not all Greeks were happy with this event: ‘He hauled a communist into his house’ and more than a few despised this folkloric art. But Katakouzenos' belief in the powerful and picturesque images of Theophilos remained strong – thinking his work was as good as the work of all those Parisian stars. It was as late as the turbulent summer of 1965 that his and Teriade’s project finally became reality.

Nowadays the museum is pretty well hidden in ever-expanding Varia, where villa after villa creeps up the mountain. It is in an idyllic little park, right next to the museum of Teriade that was created in 1979. It houses his bulk of 'his' masterpieces, like the art magazine Verve, huge themed books with beautiful work by renowned artists like Picasso, Matisse and Miro. Also the Lesvorian shepherd novel by Longus, Daphne and Chloe got a new life in an edition with colourfull images by Marc Chagall.

While Katakouzenos' name became big in the neurological world, Teriade became a famous publisher who was not afraid of the modernising artworld, but stimulated it further by publishing his revolutionary books. Although I intended to only spend time seeing the works of Theophilos, I was deeply moved by the greatness of this Verve serie, where lots of artists showed their work, but it also is a great testament to that experimental art world. Theophilos never made it into a Verve publication, but he did get his own room in the Teriade Museum, just next to all these other world famous artists.

The Theophilos museum has been closed for years for renovation. Both drought and moisture have damaged part of his works and only half of the collection has remained in Lesvos, the others are in Athens for restoring. About one and a half years ago, without much of a notice, the museum reopened. It is impressive to stand right in front of Theophilos' work. The many humorous details turn some of the works into comic strips. The museum before closing was also like a big comic book, with the works hung very close to each other. Now there are fewer works and more space: a pity, because just as Theophilos' images are so full and rich, so was the former exhibition.

Part of Theophilos' work was painted on the walls of cafenions. In exchange for a dinner, a glass of wine and a place to sleep Theophilos pepped up many a room, especially around Volos, where he lived for some years, as well as on Lesvos. Most of these fresco's have been lost due to the weather, earthquakes and lack of care. Thanks to his patron Giannis Kontos, Theophilos lived for some years in a house in Anakasia, neaby Volos, where he decorated the walls with colourful historical events. Nowadays the Kontos House is also a Theophilos Museum. But it is mainly thanks to the friendship between two Lesvorians, who introduced him to the world at large, that an important part of Theophilos work has not been lost.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2017





Monday, 13 March 2017

March 11 – Via Mytilini

(Mytilini)

The Dutch writer Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer lives in the Italian town of Genoa, in his documentary Via Genua he refers to it as an African town. It is a new world where immigrants and local inhabitants have to make a life together. This is also our life and our future, because the flow of immigrants cannot be stopped. European history shows one flow of refugees after the other: most of our ancestors came from many different areas.

Lately, Lesvos has been in the news because of the tens of thousands of refugees that landed upon its shores. But although you can reimagine Genoa as an African city, Lesvos really cannot be considered a refugee island. There are plenty of people here who have left their own country, but they remain mainly in and around the camps near Mytilini. The capital of the island stretches out from two different harbours and is still full of signs of the once ruling Ottomans. Now it has been promoted from a provincial to an international town. Not only refugees from all over the world, but also a colourful assortment of rescuers walk its narrow streets and populate its various cafes and restaurants. Even so, Mytilini is still not Genoa: Greek life continues its traditional way, with students filling the cafes and gypsies begging for an euro. But the street crowds are more varied than before and more foreign businesses are opening their doors, like a Syrian restaurant. And a Russian shop, mainly visited by Russian citizens, has already been there for years.

For sure, things are changing. A large number of people have found jobs in one of the many NGO's or set up little shops around the perimeter of the refugee camps at Moria and Kara Tepe. The camps house thousands of people, who have to drink, eat and be clothed. This is big business, although I don't know specific numbers. When passing the camps, the large number of parked cars gives the impression that there are as many rescuers and business people, as there are refugees.

There are many rescuers for whom this is now a way of life. Who doesn't know the 27 years old Malaysian gourmand Rayyan Haries who, after seeing the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, jumped onto a plane (like many of the rescuers who then came to help) and set up a cooking unit at the north shores of Lesvos where most of the refugees landed. After the biggest flows were over he returned home but could not forget the island: this winter his broad smile (and food) once again lit up the different camps. His slogan: food is hope.

Not long ago I read the beautiful book The bone sparrow of the Australian writer Zana Fraillon. Even though her story is fiction, it provides an impressive look into the life in a refugee camp, where the biggest enemy is boredom.
To combat this, in the camps of Lesvos there are playing hours for the children, different courses taught and regularly organized days out. One of the biggest challenges, whilst waiting for months, is to lead a human worthy life. Two boys from Syria are, as far as I know, the first vloggers of the island. The twin brothers show the daily life and its problems with a nice humorous touch: meet Basel & Murad in Moria.

And so Lesvos also enters the new world, with refugees, vloggers and rescuers. But like everywhere it is only the capital embracing the modern world. The rest of the island still takes a back seat, leaning towards the Middle Ages, with anarchistic farmers still do what their ancesters did, although with a mobile in their hand; the car has replaced the donkey, but the traffic rules seem unchanged and the fishermen still go out to sea in small wooden and rickety boats.

Not all of Italy is under the spell of refugees, nor is all of Lesvos full of refugees. New initiatives and the modern world slowly seeps into the streets of Mytilini, whilst the rest of the island remains its old traditional self and still a piece of Greece that's becoming more and more rare.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)


© Smitaki 2017

Monday, 6 March 2017

March 5 – Cemetery of Fan Mussels

(A little part of the Cemetery of Fan Mussels)

Lent has started, meaning that the Greeks will try not to eat meat, nor fish having blood vessels. They throw themselves on vegetables and shellfish. The two lungs of the island of Lesvos, the Gulfs of Kalloni and Yera, are blessed with a rich variety of shellfish: oysters, mussels, clams and many others. Those are the small ones, but in the muddy bottom lurk monstrous ones — the fan mussel (Pinna nobilis) can grow to over one meter and they can manage to live up to twenty years.

I love eating shellfish, but cooked. Which is contrary to the Greek way, they just like oysters and other shellfish to slide raw from the shell into the mouth, with just a few drops of lemon juice (which goes over nearly all food). Seeing such enormous mussels, as a gourmand, you wonder how big is the animal that made the shell grow and how he would taste. I am pretty sure that they should belong in the Top Five of Tasty Shellfish, but no chance: they are an endangered species and are forbidden to be collected. Even though we stumble over masses of those huge shells on various beaches along the Gulf of Kalloni; elsewhere they are considered rare.

Last year we were served pinna-balls in a restaurant. According to the cook they were made of those forbidden-to-collect shellfish (but they could have been easily made with other shellfish). I was a little disappointed with their taste, maybe because I also had a portion of those delightful scallops. So I will not ask for pinna-balls again, in order not to stimulate an illegal eating culture.

Yesterday was the first warm spring day of the year and we drove to Anemomilos, a hill behind Skala Loutron, covered with gigantic villas (no Greek crisis there), and with stunning views over the blue Gulf of Yera. A little beach seduced us down to the motionless water and it was so hot that I was tempted to undress and have a swim in the transparent water that without any wrinkle gave an overwhelming view on colourful little stones and shells. I was being a little optimistic and only my feet touched the water.

A little further on, over some rocks, there was another little beach where big silver sardines tried to push each other in order to reach the beach. Coming closer, in fact they were no sardines enjoying a day out, it looked more like a cemetery of fan mussels, lying like rusting skeletons in the water, their mother of pearl points sparkling in the sunlight. What a sad sight, additionally because many of them were pretty big. Could they have been doing a collective suicide, like dolphins or whales sometimes do? The question has not left my thoughts.

Coming home I read on Face Book an article about sea silk (in Dutch, from Luc Lakeman, Blue Yard Hub). I totally forgot that those beautiful big mussels can close their shells shut with their hair (just think about those nasty hairballs you have to remove in order to open a mussel). These hairs are the sea silk and the material used for some exclusive and expensive clothing items.

It made me fantasize further about the ‘cemetery’ and I wondered if there was somebody on the island seeing potential for a little sea silk business. A beginner who has not figured out how to harvest sea silk whilst keeping the fan mussel alive. The harvest should be made by divers cutting under water some of the hairs (not all). Then the threads can be washed and dried before the spinning.

Those giant mussels also can produce pearls, although not of a high quality (there is a big chance that they will have burst). But I presume for treasure hunters it might be a kind of business. Could there have been somebody spending a day on that lovely little beach destroying fan mussels in order to find pearls?

Luc Lakeman himself came with a more realistic answer to this riddle: probably some boats anchored there, destroying a whole village of fan mussels. I can pretty well imagine that, because the little beaches are right in front of a little island with a bright white little church on it: a dream of a setting for a picnic or a little outing. Lesvos should create a better awareness of these valuable shells, that elsewhere are hard to find. But now I am wondering about throwing out your anchor—how can you know what is at the bottom of the sea? It might be an idea for a new app.

It was a splendid day. I should have dived into the water, looking for pearls. One of those many shells must have had some. But then I had to trample them even more, what I didn't wanted to do, because even though their sad destiny was clear, the view of such a ‘cemetery’ was an impressive picture.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

Ç Smitaki 2017




Thursday, 23 February 2017

February 20 – The forest under the road

(Junk Art at Andissa, from Ioannis Theodosiou)

It was at the end of a dark December afternoon, the sun already gone; we drove over a new piece of road, from Vatoussa to Skalochori. It was pitch black and we could not see anything of the surroundings, but we did look forward to each bend the new road took. Nobody knew where the trip would lead us. Suddenly high in the sky a lit building appeared. It looked like a small acropolis surrounded by spotlights. We looked at each other questioning: where were we? How is it that we did not know this highly visible sanctuary? Which village in the west has kept it hidden? 

It could only be the little church, sleeping high on the top of a mountain next to Skalochori, now changed into a glorious light object. Maybe they installed these party lights to celebrate the new road, which has reduced the journey between Molyvos and Sigri by at least fifteen minutes. Just as the new piece of road leading from the mountains down to Sigri (the first part that was constructed of this mega 'New Road’), brings you five minutes sooner into the village. Everywhere you see sections of new tarmac: a lost bridge between Vatoussa and Andissa, a piece of road nearly embracing the road from Filia to Kalloni and another bridge lying neglected in the sheep meadows just outside Dafia.

Everywhere clearcutting and excavators remind you of the making of this road, but it is still difficult to imagine how and where this road is going to be. As it is also unclear for lots of people why in the most sparsely populated part of the island they planned a highway. The traffic in one hour can be counted on one hand.

If we were to give numbers to the thoroughfares on the island, then Kalloni to Mytilini is the A1, Kalloni to Molyvos the A2, Plomari to Larisos (A1) the A3, Polichnitos to Matses (A1) the A4, Loutra to Mytilini the A5 and Mandamados to Mytilini the A6. I think Sigri to Kalloni might be B10. The A1 and A3 are already improved. Building goes on at the A4. But why is it that the busy A2 has never had a remake (even though there was money for a circular road around Stipsi [C6]), that is a Greek mystery. As is the megalomaniac project of the B10. Similarly the boulevard of Eftalou, in summer for sure C4. It is in such bad condition that shortly buses will no longer be able to pass.

But let's go back to the B10, Sigri to Kalloni. In the small fishing village of Sigri, kept alive by the beautiful Natural History Museum of the Petrified Forest, there is no sign of new buildings. So when somebody says that this village has to become a port city, I immediately think about the question of the chicken and the egg: is a city growing thanks to a good road leading there, or is a new road made when the city is growing too much? I still believe that the secret plan to cover the wild west of Lesvos with giant windmills is still on the table.

The building of this new road was not totally useless, as proved by the amount of petrified trees discovered when digging out the road. The first section, from Sigri to Andissa, goes straight through Petrified-Tree-Land and during the making the archaeological service was always present and has reaped a big harvest. So much so that an interesting exhibition was made of it, shown during the summer of 2015 in the museum in Sigri and it has now crossed the Aegean to Thessaloniki, where The Forest under the Road can be visited until April in the Old Archaeological Museum Geni Tzami.

What the new road has to offer, other than saving time, is unclear. Some people, like the owner of the petrol station just below Vatoussa, will not be happy with this change. Reading the signs in the landscape, the road also will skip Andissa, the village which advertises having the most beautiful village square on the island. Passing above the village, along a hill famous amongst orchid hunters, there is also the junkyard of an artist who makes fabulous sculptures out of scrap metals: from amazing tables to amusing beings waving you a friendly hello as you pass by. All made from screws, bolts, fan blades, drive springs and other various car parts. When the new road actually bypasses Andissa, these laughing robots will be waving useless into the blue sky, because nobody will be stopping anymore to take them. But I guess for the time being we can still enjoy this Junk Art, because the new tarmac extends only a few kilometers a year. Or maybe the ‘real’ goal already has been achieved: that exciting exhibition about what was discovered during the making of a road on Lesvos.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2017


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

February 7 – The earth shakes

(The remains of a city gate of Old Andissa)

I'm restless, waiting for the next shock: the trembling of the earth, thundering like a heavily loaded truck passing by, the glasses, lamps and paintings shaking furiously - all causing slight panic. For two days the island has been sieged by earthquakes, the three biggest as strong as 5.2 according to the Richter scale.

Greece is the most seismic country in Europe and sixth on the world list. So Lesvos knows the antics of the Earth's crusts: the North-Anatolia Fault runs close along its northern coast. The tectonic plates grate against each other in order to have a better place to continue slumbering. The fight between the European and Asian plates is now taking place opposite Molyvos in Turkey (not far from the legendary city of Troy that was not only destroyed by warriors, but also by earthquakes). You might even wonder if Erdogan isn't stimulating the quakes in order to cream off a little of Greece.

Due to these recurring natural disasters, nearly every village or town on Lesvos has been rebuilt one or more times. In 231 BC however the little town of Pyrrha was forever swept off the map, under the gently waves of the Gulf of Kalloni. The waters there are shallow and brackish, so fortune hunters cannot see anything underwater: the town is forever lost.

Also the islet on the coast which was once Andissa was erased, going to a watery grave in 167 BC. Parts of the city walls and some houses kept their heads above the water. With a bit of imagination you can see how this very old Levorian town was. But the ruins of walls and houses are so overgrown that it has became an ideal nest for snakes. There is no way that I will re-enter, through the half preserved gate, this city of ruins, now called Ancient Andissa.

In the 19th century the villages Lisvori, Chidera and Agia Paraskevi were destroyed by three different earthquakes. Only 2 of the 70 to 80 houses of Lisvori remained standing; in Agia Paraskevi 500 inhabitants did not survive, likewise in Chidera only 30. Even though there were so many losses, all villages were restored.

Molyvos has its houses sturdily anchored on the rocks but has also had its share of earthquake misery. One quake after another: in 1865 and in 1867. That last seismic event, with 25 quakes during the night of February 23 to 24, shook the entire island. Mytilini was, for a second time in its history, badly stricken: 2248 houses were completely destroyed (previously in 1383 the whole city of Mytilini was totally destroyed, causing the death of the majority of its citizens, amongst them the ruler Francesco Gateluzi, his wife and children). According to an eyewitness the water in the harbour swirled upwards with lots of foam. Afterwards fishes were found in boats, for days afterwards springs gave only salted water and a meters deep fault was found running from the Bay of Kalloni all the way to Agia Paraskevi. That night 550 people lost their lives, Napi was totally erased and Afalonas burnt to the ground after the shakes.

Even though a 5.2 on the Richter's scale is categorized as a bad one, I know that the Lesvorians have learned a lesson from history and have built their houses as earthquake proof as possible. But the villagers of Molyvos still do not trust their buildings. When the day before yesterday, a 5.2 occurred in daytime, swift as arrows everyone was out on the street and children were promptly marched out of their classrooms into the school yard.

Now it is raining cats and dogs and a furious Zeus thunders through heaven with flashing arrows. The warmth is over and the temperature is descending rapidly. Ear deafening thundering make doors and windows rattle in their frames. It is like Zeus is joining Gaia (Goddess of the earth) to create havoc on earth. Heaven and earth are angry, yes I do understand. But please, can the tectonic plates stop fighting. There are already enough camps on the island.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2017