Monday, 20 October 2014

October 18 - Ftinoporo

(A plane tree at Agios Alexandros)

When a damp veil drapes itself over the landscape
Enfolding faraway mountain tops in mysterious light,
As though they were not part of the island of Lesvos
But part of far far-off poetic China.

When the purple-pink cyclamen with their frail turned-down petals
Massively and shamelessly change green slopes in another colour,
Their existence, a danger to pregnant women
But besides the bed, an encouragement to libido.

When monumental planes lose leaves like falling tears
Who knows for what punishment they have to spend the winter naked,
Leaving village squares unprotected under their titanic branches
That, in whimsical curves, bow to the high heaven.

When the bees buzz loud, partying like Dionysus
in the seductive scented ivy, full of nectar
That winds round trees in some places thick as vines,
Always thinking they are immortal.

When the pink heather coyly opens its buds
So that her sweet fragrance can invade the hills
Doing everything to lure all useful insects
For a contribution to a jar of honey or some royal jelly.

When the pokeweed has her bunches of stunning berries hanging
With such an intense colour but such awful poison,
Tempting daredevils who think it might bring about a cure
If prepared according to the book or when the plant is young.

When the shy grey fig trees crumple their large yellow leaves
Setting them free because their work has been done,
Their nutty fruit patiently dried as a winter sweet
Syrup pots empty, bottles filled, just leaving a delicious scent.

When ceps, milk-caps and other mushrooms awaken
Pushing their way up through the moist earth
Hastening to unfold their parasol heads
under layers of pine needles or the naked blue sky.

When the small red blushing apples of Agiasos
Have fallen from the wild trees and collected in green groves,
Gardeners with curved spines, both selling and praising them
As the mythical golden apples from the garden of Hesperides.

When the pomegranates with a colour tending to pink
Some stubbornly aiming to survive till Christmas
Offer their uncountable blood-red seeds to all lovers
Like Persephone, kept in Hades because she ate too much of them.

When the corpulent quinces have finally ripened
And their velvet golden skin waits to be scratched off
So that their hard yellow flesh can be put in pots and pans
To make a winter stock of cough syrup, jelly and liquor

When the irresistible, cheerful strawberry trees
With long straight boles like enormous cinnamon sticks
Show their fruit, as red as bright Christmas balls
Allowing but only one to eat.

When the prickly husks of the proud chestnut trees
Once brought to Greece by Alexander the Great
Tear open to show their Sardian nuts
Plopping down with soft thuds onto the tapestry of fallen leaves.

When the sunbeams keep on bringing warmth
Their light wandering over all these natural miracles
In the evenings adding more orange to the already colourful land
Looking for their bedstead each day a little earlier

When these warm colours and crackling leaves
Sweet fruit and flowering plants with their perfume overpower the island
When even the sea has to say goodbye to its summery swimmers
And this colourful season is finally here.

Then it is autumn again, or ftinoporo
And there are no more words to fully describe
How the Greek gods of Olympos again and again
Make a party of this crying world.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2014

Monday, 13 October 2014

October 10 – Pottery Land

(A potters wood oven at Agios Stefanos)

The last column by Pip caused a bit of a stir with some islanders: is it possible that low costs airlines will change Lesvos? The only thing I hope is that the Lesvorians don't fancy making their island into a mass tourist destination like Rhodes, Kos or Corfu. They should be proud of their island as it is: the richness of its magnificent nature cannot be found on any other Greek island.

Lesvos is a pretty big island (the third largest in Greece) and, certainly, filling the entire island with tourist resorts and villages - as has been done on the island of Rhodes and on the Spanish island of Mallorca - will require Herculean effort from developers. Imagine: in Mallorca you mostly find a traffic jam when attempting to visit any of its remaining green areas. Do we want that on Lesvos?

The tourism on Lesvos has been mainly concentrated in the north, around the medieval village of Molyvos, the most popular destination for tourists. But Lesvos has so many other special places, some of them still not known by people who have visited the island for years.

In the area south east of Mandamados, the village of Aspropotamos, the hamlets Agios Stefanos (known for its early-Christian basilica) and Palios held lots of archaeological sites, much of which have been lost, and historians only can guess what this region looked like in ancient times.

In the past people did not always recognise what value old ruins could have for their history. The islanders probably did not even dream of strangers coming to Lesvos to admire dilapidated castles and tumbled-down houses. So with no further thought they re-used the stones of strongholds and temples and also helped the rare foreign visitor to find stones with (to them) incomprehensible inscriptions and other archaeological treasures. Although not everybody did so.

In 1852 Thomas Newton was sent to Mytilini as the new British consul. He was interested in archaeology and had connections with the British Museum. Apart from his consular work he travelled across the island looking for museum pieces. Newton visited the basilica in Agios Stefanos. By then this little church had already been without a roof for years, but inside Newton found an interesting stone with an inscription. He asked a local farmer if he could have the stone and the farmer answered that he could take whatever he wanted.  Newton found some oxen to help transport the stone, then the Turkish Aga came by and I presume Newton had to give him some money in order to continue his enterprise. But then a woman, the owner of the land, came and sat down on the stone, forbidding Newton to take the stone. She changed into a fury defending the church, lit some incense to clean the church of the presence of Newton, who had to leave the stone in the church.*

For the English and other foreigners it was quite normal to savearchaeological treasures for their museums in those times. The biggest theft in that period happened in Athens, where the then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, (in those times Greece was still occupied by the Ottomans) took several years (1801 1804) to remove the frieze of the Parthenon. He had it transported to England, where he sold the beautyful art piece to the British Museum. The pieces are now known as the Elgin Marbles. Fortunately not everywhere did people have their history stolen from under their noses (Dutch expression). The stone that Newton wanted to take, may still be in the small basilica in Agios Stefanos (there remains a stone with roman inscriptions). And later on the villagers built a new roof on the church.

If you continue travelling North towards Palios, in the area of Kafkares, at the estuary of a river, lie the remains of an old castle. In this place there must once have been a big settlement, because there you can find plenty of ruined houses, cultivated stones and lots of shards of ancient pottery. It is thought that this might have been a lively little port, from where jars full of olive oil and wine were transported.

A little further on, just beside Palios with its idyllic little harbour, there are graves cut out of the stones of the rough landscape. Palios now a gathering of not more than a handful of houses had also been much more lively: until 1922 pilgrims from Ayvalik arrived here in order to visit the Taxiarchis Monastery, that has a famous icon of the archangel Michael known for its miracles.

In ancient times, transporting goods like wine and oil was done by earthen jars. Those jars were made by potters and especially in this area near Mandamados, many of them used to live. Quite a few ruined houses have pottery kilns beside their dilapidated walls. The pottery from this region (and that from Agiasos) was once famous all over Greece.

In Agios Stefanos a potter lives who still makes pots and plates in the traditional way. The clay is dug out of the ground and is put on the road, where it can be spread by the cars. This part of the process of course is not so traditional: when there were not yet cars, the clay was kneaded by elbows and feet, a very heavy job to get the clay supple. Once the clay comes off the road it is put into water, then it is sieved with some powder added to make the clay more elastic. The making and baking of the pottery does however follow the ancient process: formed by hand, dried under the sun and baked in a traditional woodstove.

When travelling through this pottery land, many little pools surrounded by birds and dragonflies will come to your attention. These were all created by the removal of the clay from the ground. Imagine how many plates and jars come from there! Little beaches boarding the crystal clear sea, birds, insects, wild lavender, hidden orchids and plenty of old ruins make this area a great place, full of surprises. I am not sure if the many cows, also wandering free around there, have a place in the history of the pottery. But I am fairly sure that no tourist resort will be making its appearance there soon because the beaches are too small and the landscape too wild.

 by Lucia Patrizio Gunnin

(With thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2014

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

About repeaters and recreationists

(Storm approaching Hotel Panselinos)

By: Pip

For a long time Lesvos has seemed untouched by time, but the type of tourist coming to the island has started to change. The question is what influence this will have on the island, the inhabitants and the solid core of tourists the so-called repeaters who come here year after year.

I do not know any other Greek island where tourists return so often as to Lesvos. Sometimes they come two to three times a year and some for as long as ten to twenty years. Mostly these are vacationers belonging to the category ethnic tourism. For them visiting the traditional villages and being in contact with the locals is the main goal. I am back homethey call out when they arrive and are being hugged by the owner of the apartment they rented. On Lesvos the owners of the accommodations are very good at ensuring that their customers feel that they belong to the family. They spoil their renters in big ways with home made Spanakopita and fresh products like tomatoes and figs from their own garden. When the guests are leaving they wave them goodbye saying: See you next year.

Lesvos also is visited by many eco tourists. Just like the ethnic tourists they return regularly to the island, because there are many remote areas to be explored. On Lesvos you can walk until you are blue. This summer a couple had to be rescued by the police, after long hours of searching, because they had become lost. They were on a mountaintop high above the Mill Valley, without water. But at least they kept a signal on their telephone.
Birdwatchers also see the island as a real paradise. People who want to see other birds than Flamingos and Black Storks will need more than one telephoto lens and one notebook to write down the discovered birds. Or do they have a digital system nowadays for marking the spotted birds? I have no idea about that.
The Lesvorian flora also is very important. The many Oleanders, the Yellow Rhododendron and the many kinds of Orchids are another attraction. A few months ago, in the mountainous area around Agiasos, a new orchid has been discovered that for sure has to be spotted on a next holiday.

There are also tourists who like to explore the cultural and historical background of Lesvos. There is pottery, monasteries, archaeological digs and museums to explore. There even is a Petrified Forest. But lets be honest. When you visited those sights for a second time and you are not interested in other things, you probably will not return for a third time.

In the typology of different forms of tourism there is another kind of tourist: the recreationalist. This group comes for the sun, sea, beach and sex. This year, with the arrival of a low budget airline company, this type of tourist seems to have increased on Lesvos. The hotel and beach cafe owners are very happy with these holidaymakers. They spend the whole day on a sun bed on the beach or at the pool and consume, which means money. The weekly barbeque has risen in popularity. They seldom go to explore the island and when they go they prefer the bazaar in Turkey to the Petrified Forest. Even though they come back  disappointed, because the markets in Ayvalik and Dikili are not the same as in Bodrum.

That they are not totally satisfied is proven by the many complaints they come up with. I mean, imagine: stepping out of the plane, they suddenly are on an authentic Greek island. Driving to the hotel the transfer may take as long as one and a half hour and the driver only speaks Greek. The studio they booked just has one room. The wifi only works at the reception area, there is not constant hot water, the showerhead is not affixed to the wall and there is no curtain in the shower. There is no towel to dry the dishes and you have to buy the washing up liquid yourself. The mattress is too soft or too hard and the sheets are too short. There are five ants marching over the floor and over the ceiling crawls a spider. The sheep in the neighbouring meadow bellow and their tinkling bells keep you from your sleep. There are sea urchins in the sea and on the beach there are pebbles. Also there are heaps of seaweed on the beach! Cant they take that away? And then there is only one Lidl, faraway in Mytilini and there is no McDonalds on the entire island. I do not know if those people also have complaints about sex. I presume not, because you can have sex everywhere, even on Lesvos.

I guess that the major part of this group will not become repeaters. Even though the recreationalists will keep on coming. It is the largest group of tourism. Even if part of this group comes for one time only, they will come in big numbers. The low budget airline company will increase its number of flights to Mytilini next year, so their group will be even bigger. Then the question will not be 'if' but 'how' the (foreign) entrepreneurs will react and how long it will be before they start building bigger hotels. I am afraid that then a lot of repeaters will not come back. Which will be a pity because it is thanks to them that Lesvos could remain what it was and still is: an authentic Greek island with exceptionally friendly local people and a beautiful nature.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Pip 2014

Sunday, 28 September 2014

September 22 – Ayvalik


Finally, after a lot of wrangling, the international customs post in the harbour of Petra has been opened. The only remaining question is: for whom? Is it for sailing boats from Turkey? The post has been created for an excursion boat, which however has not yet shown up and probably will not arrive this year. So now we have a custom post with officials who have nothing to do and it is still impossible to go to Turkey from Petra.

If you want to visit our neighbouring land from the north or south of the island, you still have to travel very early in the morning to Mytilini to take a ferry to Dikili or Ayvalik. Although it still is worth going, especially to Ayvalik which is a nice place with historical interest to visit.

Once Ayvalik, also called Kydonies, was even pretty famous in Greece. In 1773 this little Ottoman city, with a majority of Greek citizens, had so many privileges that it could operate like a free city. This came about because a Greek priest saved the life of a Grand Vizier. Hospitals and all kind of schools were built. Education was taken so seriously that Ayvalik soon became the Greek literature centre of the whole of Asia Minor. The Greek Language School was reknowned for its number of well known Greeks teachers, like Benjamin of Lesvos.

In those times there was also plenty of commerce between Lesvos and the Anatolian coast. On both sides people lived from trade in oliveoil, soap, leather, fruit and fish and many boats sailed between both sides of the Aegean. There were no customs barriers and the only obstacle was the possibility that you had to pay a small harbour fee.

In 1821 the Greeks started their revolt against the Ottoman occupation. Many pockets of resistance sprung into life, amongst them one in Ayvalik with about 600 members. However the Greek fleet did not succeed in liberating the eastern islands and the coast of Asia Minor, where many Greeks lived. Only part of central Greece managed to shake off the Turks. After some attempts Ayvalik was besieged by the Sultan’s army and put on fire. Most of the inhabitants fled the city (it was estimated to have a population of 40,000) to find security on the nearby islands (one of which, I guess, was Lesvos). However in 1832 the Sultan allowed the citizens of Ayvalik to return to their city and they started to rebuild the town and their fields.

Soon Ayvalik flourished again thanks to its commercial and cultural life. But at the beginning of the 20th century Turkish nationalism arose, which caused Ayvalik to begin to lose its privileges. When the Ottoman Empire choose the side of Germany in the First World War, lots of Greek Ayvaliotes were conscripted into the army and priests and wealthy civilians were accused of being spies and executed. According to Wikipedia there were so many men taken that the production of oliveoil came to a stop. Because the Greek oil from Ayvalik and Edremit was so famous, some 4500 Greek families were ‘imported’ to ensure the continuation of the production of this quality oil.

Turkish Nationalism grew even more after the loss of the war, partly because of the humiliating Treaty of Sevres. The Greek – Turkish war of 1919-1922 (in which both parties were guilty of massacres) ended with a large population exchange (exodos) between Greece and the new state of Turkey. More than a million Greeks, whose families had lived for centuries in Asia Minor, were forced to move to Greece. The majority left for the Greek mainland, but some sixty thousand of them ended up in the North Aegean islands (amongst them Lesvos). In Mytilini there is a commemorative statue of a refugee mother and children and in Skala Loutron there is a small museum displaying all kind of artefacts brought by the refugees.
Some 40% of the Greeks now claim that their ancestors came from Asia Minor. The Greek inhabitants of Ayvalik were sent to different parts of Greece, while the Turks from Lesvos (and from Crete and Macedonia) settled in Ayvalik.

From most parts of the island (excepting the south-west) one has a view over Turkey. It is strange to realise that the far side of that country is now overrun with hundreds of thousands of refugees. For years now smaller numbers of refugees enter Greece (including Lesvos). But what’s happening now at the Turkish-Syrian border resembles a biblical catastrophe and reminds me of the masses of refugees during and after the Greek-Turkish war, when warmongering produced such fear that large groups of people fled their homes and lands.

Now, not even a century later, the old world is again on the move and conflicts flare up everywhere. Even though for some people the conflict seems to be far away, it has reached the Turkish borders. And soon enough the whole of Europe will be involved,  just like in the times of the first World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

I have just been reading a novel that takes place in that time when the nationalists led by Kemal Atatürk were fighting the Treaty of Sevres and did not listen to any of the Allies who occupied Istanbul: L’autre Rive du Bosphore (as far as I know not yet translated in English) from the French writer Theresa Révay. Historically, it is reasonably well researched and gives a good opportunity to learn about that frightening time. A book, praised by everybody, that describes the international politics of that time even better is from the American journalist Giles Milton: Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922. It’s a bloodcurdling report about the heartbreaking fall of a beautiful city, not a century ago. If we may believe the report of an Ottoman doctor in Tracing the memoir of dr. Şerafeddin Magmumi for the urban memory of Ayvalik, then Ayvalik once was a little Smyrna (now Izmir): with colourful inhabitants, a lively nightlife and a big cultural life. The above mentioned document shows that there remains plenty of the old Ayvalik, so it is still worthwhile travelling to Mytilini and boarding a boat to a part of Turkey that for such a long time was so Greek.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2014

Friday, 12 September 2014

September 10 – Cloud theater

(Cloudy sunset at the Gulf of Kalloni)

When I awoke this morning and went outside, it took me a while to see what was missing. Many times I have looked out over the sea and mountains, but today there were no clouds in the sky. Would this day be one of the very few cloudless days of this summer?

Clouds arise when humidity is sufficiently high that water vapour high in the sky condenses into raindrops and ice crystals. Clouds seem to do whatever they like and often make unexpected moves. Yesterday, I had a telephone conversation with a friend and I told her that at any moment there could be rain on the island, because huge thundering cauliflowerclouds above Turkey where attacking the Lesvorian coast. When the call was finished and I went outside, the threatening culprit had totally vanished and the clouds had retreated far into the Turkish countryside. Now you probably think the telephone conversation was hours long, but the disappearing act took only fifteen minutes.

This cloud theatre above Turkey is not new. Over the summer, more than once, you could enjoy a performance that consisted of attacking and retreating rumbling thunderclouds, while the island didn't get hit by even one drop of rain. But equally it also happens that this voluptuous mass continues its surprise attack so quickly, that before you can run for cover, you will be soaking wet. And they are smart, those clouds, because after discharging their water, they disappear as quickly as they dropped the rain and suddenly you will be looking into a cloudless sky.

This summer the cloud theatre was pretty active in Greece. Many a tourist did not appreciate their performances at the beginning of the summer, because the rain continued repeatedly until the middle of June. But also in July and in August clouds were hanging out in the sky, a bit bored but ready for some action. They were just like naughty kids: as soon as they saw an opportunity, they caused some uproar. They made it rain on several occasions in July as well as in August, which is very rare for a Greek summer.

Some weeks ago they even presented a very special night performance, so unusual for Lesvos. One night, I had dinner with some friends in Vafios and when we were driving back down to Molyvos we saw low clouds besieging the village with long stretched fingers. Our first reaction was that there must be a big fire somewhere, but upon approaching the village, there was so much condensed humidity that it could only be clouds that seem to have fallen from heaven. It did not roll out of the sea, like sea mist, but came in a mysterious way from the land. First the castle was swallowed and then the entire village and when we arrived in the village you could not see a hand before your eyes (a Dutch expression saying that the view is very poor). The people that we could see roamed around in a kind of chaotic way, because nobody knew what was happening. For a while Molyvos seemed to be the village out of the famous movie The Fog (1980), where a coastal village gets engulfed in a thick fog, bringing with it the ghosts of mariners who had died in a shipwreck.

It could have been a nice finale for the summer theatre season, but obviously the clouds were not yet ready to give up showing their tricks. As soon as September started, they ganged together, multiplying themselves and took the colours of frightening grey and black. This time they were ready for some heavy 'pop-up' performances. So when I wanted to show the beautiful place of Agia Anayeri to friends, we were surprised with a thunderstorm play that was so heavy that for a few seconds I was afraid that the Mt Olympus (on Lesvos) had joined the play with a volcano eruption and for days after my eardrums were still roaring. The show did not move from the mountains and had us captured for ninety minutes in the local taverna, where we happily found shelter, and drank lots of coffee.  After we finally were able to be on the road again, in half an hour we reached the coast and you probably will guess it: all clouds had disappeared from the sky.

This cloud company stayed for many days above the island and enjoyed itself with many such performances all over the island. They even frightened tourists who had fled the island in May or June due to the bad weather and who had returned to the island hoping for a second chance holiday and a cloudless vacation. The rains also woke up the snails much too early (they usually finish their big summer sleep after the first rains at the end of September or in October) and drunk from the rain they were chased onto the roads where they were picked up by greedy Greek hands to be thrown into the stew pots. Snails are said to taste the best just after their summer siesta.

The advantage of a summer full of clouds is that on most evenings you will be presented with a sparkling sunset. To be honest: a cloudless sunset is boring and these water masses are the ones who can add spectacular colours at the sky as daylight is fading. Even the last Supermoon, who performed this summer three times, was less sensational than the cloud theatre. Last night he shined big, bright and yellow over the Lesvorian landscapes, but the orange ball going down into the Aegean Sea was just as impressive due to some clouds.

I am wondering if sardines like clouds. This summer most of the sardine nets in the Gulf of Kalloni, remained empty. It seems that there are some years that sardines do not come to the island in their usual big numbers and so my favourite dish of salted sardines (sardelles pastès) was hard to find this summer. Was it the clouds that stopped them from coming because they could not show off their silver coats in the sunshine or was it a bunch of dolphins guarding the entrance to the Gulf, feasting upon all the sardines trying to get in? This year for sure one speciality of Lesvos will be rare: tinned salted sardines from Kalloni.

Meanwhile some minuscule clouds have appeared over the horizon. But they look friendly and innocent - in Holland we call them sheep clouds. I hope they predict a beautiful end to the summer, free from a cloud theatre: kalo ftinopero!

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2014

Monday, 1 September 2014

August 28 – Nothing new under the sun

(The castle of Mytilene)

For years nothing has really happened on the island and suddenly there is a sparkling summer full of new events: at Sigri lots of new petrified trees have been found, Anaxos got connected with Molyvos by train, the opening of the OXY has put the island on the map for partying youngsters, many new charter flights have made the number of tourists grow. A few days ago the island got a new ferry between Mytilene and Izmir in Turkey, and the Spanish company Iberdrola started working on the creation of a so-called energy landscape: the windmill park in the west of the island. This part of the island will be turned into a new tourist attraction: listening to the buzzing rotation blades and looking up at the 67 meter high windmills, that will (just like the sequoias many millions of years ago) reach high into the sky. And all this is happening in a UNESCO geopark!

Lesvos (and Chios and Limnos) must be a Valhalla for Iberdrola where they can pick the money out of the air. It is not a facility but a commercial business: the electricity generated by the 153 windmills on Lesvos will be sold to the highest bidder party and this certainly will not be the island. In a Dutch tv-series (Ik vertrek; ( about emigrating Dutch people they showed a family that went to Spain and had to wait more than one year to get connected to the electricity net of Iberdrola, who owns most of the electricity facilities in Spain. Or maybe the family is still waiting to be connected. So I guess this island must be dealing with a bunch of smart and trustworthy men.

Another novelty on the island is the custom office in the harbour of Petra. Gates and buildings are all ready to receive tourists who want to make an excursion to Turkey. But the capital Mytilene is not ready at all: they, of course, prefer to keep this boat connection in their own harbour, afraid that otherwise no tourist will ever visit Mytilene. As of now, there are no custom officers available for Petra.

In ancient times Lesvos consisted of a small number of city-states, although it was Methimna (the original name of Molyvos) and Mytilene who dominated the island power structure.  When you read the history of the island you will see that lots of different people held power, like the mythical king Macaras, Amazons, Persians, Athenians, Egyptians, pirates, Romans, the Italian family of Gateluzzi and the Ottomans. Changing powers on the island was never peaceful, and sometimes Mytilene and Methimna supported opposing sides.

Mytilene used to be an island connected to Lesvos by a small strait that connected the harbour in the south with the one in the north. For pedestrians they say there were beautiful marble bridges. Some archaeologists think Mytilene used to be the Venice of the East. However the strait silted up and it was decided to fill it up, this way improving the defences of the castle. Nowadays the main shopping street Ermou runs where the strait used to be.

To be honest I have no idea where Methimna got its power and wealth. Like Mytilene, the city had its own coins, a large and strong castle, but no commercial harbour. But the two cities regularly fought for the power over the island.

In the year 428 BC Mytilene, a new member of the Delian League (a league composed of different Greek states), planned a revolt against Athens, which as the head of the Delian League, had misused its members. They first tried to get all city-states of Lesvos together but Methimna, a good ally to Athens, did not want to support the revolt. Mytilene secretly reinforced its fleet and bought extra grain in readiness for war with the Athenians. But even in those times there were spies and before Mytilene was ready, word reached Athens, and Mytilene was soon surrounded by Athenians.  The Athenian Assembly or ecclesia had to decide about the fate of Mytilene. Well, to be honest, it was a much more complicated situation, but the fact is that Athens decided that all men from Mytilene should be put to death and the women and children be sold as slaves. They started with slaughtering some thousand prisoners, but then the Athenians started wondering how they had become such barbarians. They asked for another session of the ecclesia and there a certain Cleon said that the punishment should be carried out, but another speaker Diodotus pleaded that it would be better for Athens if the Mytilenians were kept alive so that they could remain a future ally for Athens. The citizens of Athens agreed with Diodotus and that is how the Mytilenians were spared.
I bet that in those times a citizen of Methimna was not welcome shopping in Mytilene. But in any case, this second debate of the ecclesia has gone down in history as the Mytilenian Debate.

If today you were to organize an ecclesia here on the island, it probably would still be a matter of decisions being taken by the party who has the best speaker. For instance there were lobbyists from Iberdrola who spoke to the citizens of West-Lesvos, promising them that the windmill project would provide them with lots of jobs and money. I guess the speaker of the other side, amongst them environmental defenders, had probably nothing to offer but a warning of a natural disaster. The inhabitants of the west said yes to the large project, maybe not fully realizing that their habitat will be changed drastically by the building of 100 of kilometres of new roads, six metres wide, that are needed only for the installation of the windmills - windmills that will soon terrorize Nature with their flapping sounds.

A citizen assembly is also needed for the question of the tourist boat going from Petra to Turkey. It will be the Mytilenian shopkeepers opposed to those in the north and the travel agents. I say first they should all read about the Mytilenian debate, so that reason will win. Most tourists who stay in the north and west do not come to the island for Mytilene and just get irritated at having to travel so far in order to take the boat to Turkey. Mytilene should not complain because they have just got a brand new connection with Izmir, along with different planes from Istanbul.

Even though Lesvos is nowadays one municipality, it looks like the mayor favours his capital. He should realize that it will be better for the whole island when tourists spend more time in the villages and less time on the road and in buses. It seems to be the old song: Mytilene against Methymna. I wonder if Athens will have to intervene

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2014

Friday, 22 August 2014

August 19 – About volcano’s and swimming stones

(White phalusses at Sigri)

Have you ever noticed the great number of stones on a Greek island? Just like the Lesvorian landscape, that proudly shines with its stones and rock formations. It was millions of years ago that volcanic forces ravaged and reshaped the island, so that now we can admire whimsical rock formations - like the mountainsides built-up of columns (columnar lava), horizontal stone plates that seem to be on the brink of falling down, or enormous rocks which were catapulted by the force of the eruptions and now lie scattered around, just waiting to be made into a Lesvorian Stonehenge Centre.

The monastery of Ypsilo, which has, without doubt, the best view over the stone desert of the West, has been built on the Ordymnos, a so-called lava dome (see it as lava that gets pushed upwards and forms mountains). Also the tops of Lesvos' biggest mountain range, the Lepetymnos, are lava domes, as are most of the mountaintops surrounding Eresos. The famous mermaid church at Skala Sykaminias has been built on lava rocks. Filia, Avlaki and Alifanta present 'so-called' dikes, plates of horizontal stone (solidified magma) sticking out in the landscape like enormous ridges.  The Panagia Glikofiloussa Church in Petra has been built on a 'so-called' volcanic neck (the solidified end of a canal transporting lava when the volcano was active, with the sides now eroded).

The volcanos also petrified thousands of trees, so that we now can enjoy the beautiful Natural History Museum in Sigri, where you not only find trees, millions of years old, but where you can discover all sorts of other fascinating geologic aspects of the island. If you don't fancy popping into a museum during the hot weather, or you don't want to go for a stroll in the Park of the Petrified Wood during the soaring heat, you might venture out by car from Andissa towards Sigri, where just after the junction to Eresos, there are construction works going on to widen the road. Digging into the ground they have found a whole museum-full of new petrified trees. Upon discovery they are first covered in plaster to protect them, thus creating a landscape of white phalluses. When you take a closer look at where the earth is removed you might see other trees, branches or roots that were covered by lava and rain millions of years ago, thus getting petrified and transformed into colourful fossils, and now seeing daylight after so much time.

During the last few weeks the Greeks have been under the spell of another road construction discovery. Close to Serres in the northern province of Macedonia: a grave was found, where two sphinxes and a huge statue of a lion (resembling the Amphipolis lion) stand guard over the entrance. The enormous grave dates from the time of Alexander the Great (356 323 BC) and because the last resting place of this great warlord has never been found, lots of people hope he will be hidden in this grave. Other, more sober, persons think it might be the grave of Alexander's wife Roxane.

Alexander the Great and his wife Roxane are known worldwide and the discovery of their grave would bring lots of publicity. So too, I could imagine, would the discovery of the grave of Sappho during the road construction at Sigri. However, the very important archaeological finds made this summer on Lesvos seem only to have attracted the local media. For a few years the archaeological service of the University of Crete has been digging around Lisvori and what they have found has not been a statue of a lion, but lots of stones that served 150,000 to 500,000 years ago as tools for the inhabitants of Lesvos. That means that the site is the oldest archaeological place in Greece and the East of Europe.

Can you imagine that where we now drive around in rented jeeps and cars, people used to roam in search of food with spears and axes hewn out of stones? In those times there was no agriculture. People survived by hunting animals and finding plants. Apparently the hunting fields of Lesvos were plentiful, especially around the Lake of Kalloni. The lake was only much later connected with the sea after a severe earthquake. Prehistoric animals as big as elephants, camels, rhinoceros, deer and huge tortoises were all living on the island (some bones of those animals found near Gavathas can be seen in the Natural History Museum of Vatera in Vrissa). People in paleolithic times did not depend on planes or boats: it is thought that the island was then still connected to the Asiatic plateau, so that it could be reached by walking.

It is known that the Romans used to come to have a holiday on the paradise-like island of Lesvos. I guess that people in the Stone Age were not familiar with the concept of vacations. When they wanted something different, they just moved elsewhere to another place and I bet in those years Lesvos already was pretty popular, due to all the tools that now have been recovered.

So stones can be mighty interesting. Without knowing you may have in you hands an antique item: a prehistoric axe or spearhead. Stones on Lesvos can also provide more surprises: they can sometimes hide amethyst or quartz. Even gold and silver used to be mined on the island.

Other less flamboyant stones can also surprise you. During volcanic eruptions, pumice can be made, as was the case during the eruptions on Santorini: lava cooled so fast that gas got trapped inside the clot. This porous stone has the attractive attribute that it can float. I read about it by accident and when the next day I took a stroll along the beach I could not believe my eyes: there was a piece of stone floating on the water! I thought that I might not have seen them before, because I had not known their story. A few days later I saved another piece from the sea, but since then I have never again seen stones swimming in the sea!

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2014