Monday, 10 September 2012

September 5 - Lesvos: the island of angels?

Archangel Michael (photo from internet)

Everybody knows the myth of Icarus: along with his father Daedelus he was kept on the island of Crete by King Minos. Daedelus developed a master plan to escape: he made a construction with wings of feathers and wax for his son to fly away. Icarus got one warning: do not go too close to the sun; it will melt your wings.

If anybody wants to know why Icarus was so enthusiastic about flying too close to the sun and thus crashing into the Aegean, read the book When We Have Wings by the Canadian writer Claire Corbett.

In the beginning I had some doubts about this book which is about a new society consisting of people some of whom can fly. The flyers are the rich people who can afford to have wings. I myself hate flying and even to look at a movie just like this one about an aeroplane flying over Lesvos, gives me the creeps. But this book did the opposite: I had the feeling that if scientists were to read this book, very soon we would no longer have to be pressed like cattle into an airplane; but we could reach our holiday destination like Lesvos with our own wings.

Reading this book gives you wings, gives you goose bumps on your back where your wings should grow. This story has been written so convincingly that even if you have a major fear of flying, you will wish you could be flying like the characters in When We Have Wings.

Maybe this little movie will give you an impression how it feels when you take off into the air. Just imagine flying all over the island.

I am sure that this way you could easily spot signs of ancient settlements. The earth looks quite different from above than from ground level. An archaeologist says she found huge pyramids hidden in the sand in Egypt with the aid of Google Earth. The archaeologists who found traces of an pre-aeolian civilization in Kourtir (Skamnioudi) did not have the help of Google Earth, nor did the ones who excavated in Chalakies (between Skala Polichnitos and Nyfida), discovering traces of an even elder settlement from the copper or Neolithic era. Right now a group of international archaeologists is digging and discovering the remnants of a civilization possibly from 200,000 years ago! Even older than that of the Neanderthals. I wonder how these ancient people lived and if they, like Icarus, ever tried to fly.

In those times it was only the gods who could fly. Or could there have then still been flying mammals, like big flying dinosaurs? In the region around Lisvori and Vatera they found the remains of huge prehistoric animals like mastodons, camels, oxen, a tortoise as big as a car and the bones of a huge ape family. Around Gavathas they found the bones of a dinosaur.

The only dinosaurs who have survived are the birds, the giant albatross being the biggest, with an average wing span of 3 metres, a dwarf compared to the huge dinosaurs, of which the sauropode Amphicoelias could be 60 metres long.

Claire Corbett took the birds as an inspiration to describe flying people in a realistic way. And she created a sparkling architecture for the world of her flyers: a city with high towering buildings, steep abysses and even floating districts. She describes fabulous things like coloured waterfalls, transparent walls and paths which seem to go through space: a real joy for the fantasy lovers.

However, the real flyers in her story - the ones who do not fly because of being part of the happy few, but because they really love to fly - don’t float around those magic buildings, but prefer natural settings, of which there are plenty on Lesvos: a beach, a bright blue sea and rocks to take off. The one difference is that the Greek summers are pretty cloudless. The real flyers are studying birds and insect and cloud formations and aerodynamics in the sky.

Seeing people with wings makes you think of angels. Flying creatures are known on Lesvos; an example being the legend of archangel Michael, whose miracle icon in the monastery of Mandamados attracts thousands of pilgrims yearly. The story goes that archangel Michael with his wings and sword chased away the Turks – another story says pirates - who were raiding the Taxiarchis monastery, thus saving one monk. This man was so grateful to his rescuer he took the earth coloured with blood and created an image of the head of the archangel, later decorated with beautiful silver wings. Taxiarchis, the Greek name of the archangel Michael, is also the patron saint of Lesvos.

Robert Betz, the German guru who has settled on the island believes that Lesvos is an island of angels. Not only can you find plenty of images of angels for sale in his online shop, in seminars he also has the angels talk.

That’s why in the souvenirs shops of Lesvos now you’ll find plenty of angels along with the icons with archangels, made by artists taking advantage of this Betz-angel-trend. Claire Corbett however writes about human angels, not created with miracles as it is pure science that makes the flying possible. The flying people with their lustrous wings may look like angels from heaven, but the story is really human: about being a parent, about social justice and of course about love and betrayal.

I have no idea about which angels Robert Betz is talking. His angel-students are just like Corbett’s elitist flyers — a little arrogant, moving around like they are the only people on the island. I would say that they do not behave like angels, more like Icarus, whose haughtiness collapsed when his waxen wings melted.

I prefer the birdwatchers, studying the last flying dinosaurs, or the angel icons set in gold and silver, who may shed a tear once in a while but keep on attracting pilgrims without a fuss.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful post!! I really enjoy roaming around in your blog. Thanks so much! :)