Wednesday, 23 December 2015

December 20 – Do not forget the island


Wild waves of froth roll towards the island, while the mountains in Turkey, hidden by the shadow of a sun that does not shine, bare their teeth while laughing. The leaden grey water hides many tragedies, but hasn’t lost its majestic look. Nor has Lesvos, that over the past year has had the eyes of the world upon it.

Dramatic scenes and the sorrows of so many people have created a veil of tears as deep as the mountain of lifejackets is high; but the green mountains of Lesvos tower higher over this all. History is like a rough sea, with waves that rise and fall. The island has plenty of stories to tell, about people acting badly or as heroes.

Roads and paths cut through a rampant wilderness, hiding many woes long forgotten by the islanders. As a visitor you can ask each stone what it has seen during its century long life. But nature is a master in covering up under its green carpet all that once was, just as the sea keeps on pulsing her water until all the tears and fear have been lost in the dancing of the waves.

The island of the beautiful weaver of words, Sappho, is not in a hurry to reach into the future, nor does it weep for its many deaths at sea. Formed long ago by fire-spitting landmasses, Lesvos challenges its visitors and makes them seem small. It radiates a kind of eternal life and is stubborn about its traditions, only moving slowly towards modern times.

Faraway wars have pushed refugees towards Lesvos and now its north and east coasts are known worldwide, whilst the other regions of the island stubbornly continue their daily life. Men rake the olives out of their trees, jog along behind their sheep or sit in the cafenions looking in the papers for news that happened only next door. Women peel, cut and cook and in their simple kitchens conjure up amazingly divine dishes.

Between the many villages of the island, the treetops bow respectfully to the Gods of the wind, at the same time gossiping about all the mushrooms and wild strawberries that were forgotten to be collected, or about the bold anemones and sweet scented narcissi that have decided to see the light before Christmas: a sign that playful Spring wants to have her entrance arm-in-arm with Father Winter.

Sweet waters from so many sources search new ways to waterfalls, tender green meadows and jerrycans. Holy churches have been named to watch over them, but are also there for other purposes, like honouring miracle creating saints. Faith is as deep as the Lesvorian bubbling core, where the sources begin.

In the South and West many isolated beaches run along the sea, unknown to many tourists, who think that the best holidays can only be taken in the North. Like a medieval Queen, Molyvos towers high above the coasts that are battered by shipwrecked people. While small Sigri, at whose tide lines only real sailors appear, radiates white and innocent like a sweet princess. There, like a gold prospector, the wild wind uncovers in the earth sleeping treasures that only have to be kissed by geologists to show their by centuries' formed beauty.

Steep peeks of sleeping volcanoes form the majestic entrance to Eressos and where Skala Eressou meets the sea, lips of women touch each other. It was here that Sappho rose from the earth like the goddess Venus from the sea and she still is worshipped in the many bars where evenings, full of colourful cocktails, have hearts and tongues dancing.

There where bent pines kiss the foam from the sea, stretches the sandpit of Vatera. So long that it is hard to believe that tourists do overlook this great beach. Large sand plains dappled with stones polished by the sea offer a surprising loneliness with the airy Graffiti Museum as an added bonus.

High in the mountains a small source gathers strength and curls down like an impatient river through tunnels of trees, bushes and dilapidated watermills towards the sea, cutting in half a princely little town. Plomari, growing against steep slopes, consists of rising and descending stairs and streets. There faded glory lives next to the lively terraces at the harbour, looking out over a south sea that only once in a while embraces a refugee.

The lungs of the island – the Bays of Yera and Kalloni – have kilometres' long coast lines, not polluted by rubber boats or lifejackets. They manage saltpans full of pink flamingoes, chatting pelicans and other swimming birds. There where the salt and sweet water merge (and further) you can find amazing deserted aquamarine bays and by trees shadowed beaches.

In the north of this Pearl of the Aegean, Molyvos and Sikaminia, fire-spitting dragons, watch over the safety of stranded strangers. The largest part of the island however stretches endlessly and undisturbed towards the south and east, where history still sleeps and where the appearance of a refugee or a tourist still causes talk in smokey cafenions. Lesvos is far more than an island sheltering refugees. Do not forget that island.

I wish everybody a peaceful, better, helpful, compassionate, healthy and happy New Year.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2015

Sunday, 13 December 2015

December 7 – Saint Nicholas

(Saint Nicholas saving people; photo from internet)

Christmas on a Greek island still remains a bit odd. In daytime you can enjoy the sun in a Christmas tree decorated t-shirt. But once the sun kisses the sea, a wintry cold creeps up from the ground and then a hot spiced wine (gl├╝hwein) taste as sweet as a Christmas angel on your tongue, just like past Sunday, when hundreds of people came to the Christmas market in Molyvos.

You may throw a party on the 6th of December in honour of the little Holy Baby in his manger, but this day remains first and foremost the Names Day of Saint Nicholas, in Greek Ayos Nikolaos. He is amongst others the patron saint of children and of everybody travelling over water. I’m sure that all Greek islands have a church dedicated to him. On Lesvos you even may find a Saint Nicholas church in each harbour, and that is very much needed, because saving lives has become a daily matter here.

The Holy Nicholas originally comes from Patara, nowadays in Turkey. As the Bishop of Myra he helped poor children and saved people from the sea. Now that masses of refugees use Turkey to come to Europe, he will be the saint responsible for a safe journey over the Aegean Sea.

European politicians may have celebrated this childrens’ event (especially in Holland), eating lots of sweet and with their hearts at peace, because they shifted their guilt to Greece and they have dropped an enormous bag full of money in Turkey, so that no refugee dares to enter Europe anymore. Naughty kids in Holland can end up in the big bag of the coloured helpers of Saint Nicholas and I think that those Peters should cram those politicians playing Judas in their bag and transport them to Lesvos. There they will have to participate in a cold night wake in order to see what their faulty decisions have caused: devilish Erdogan has caused the refugee stream to dry up, just to show that he is the boss over Europe and that he has sent his smugglers for a Christmas Holiday. Those few not obeying Erdogan will have to play at being real smugglers, using the night as their cover: now the refugees do the crossing mainly in the pitch-dark, regularly choosing the longer route to Mytilini, which makes the journey even more dangerous.

As far as I can see Turkey does not have a patron saint, but Greece does: Saint Nicholas. Now look at the Greek people! Entirely in the spirit of their patron saint and with the help of lots of gifts from abroad, they are trying to give the refugees dignified shelter.

The patron saint of Lesvos is the archangel Michael (Taxiarchis), who normally is pictured like a fierce fighter out of a modern computer game. He regularly uses his weapon. According to believers the last time he took up his shiny sword was during the Cyprus crisis (1974), when his mural painting at the Mandamados Monastery disappeared. It reappeared within a week and several Greek soldiers vow that in the time between, they fought their battle against the Turks side by side with Michael.

This combative archangel also is no stranger to Muslims. Mikal is known to have fought against the devil. That he did not win that battle proves all the evil that still is around. Since the death of Mary (who died in Ephese, also now in Turkey) Turkey has been the centre of several powerful empires, like the Byzantines and the Ottomans. Today someone else is enthroned in Turkey dreaming of another megalomaniac empire.

These days feel like we are in the world of Game of Thrones, where rulers and politicians are blinded by wealth and trample their people; they play dirty tricks and fight each other, while in the background, not a new Ice Age, but the warming of the globe is the real enemy.

Jesus’ father Joseph is the protector of a long list of people, amongst them the refugees. But he has so many to protect that it seems he may not be up to his task. I think the refugees better stick with Ayos Nikolaos, who, believe it or not, was the precursor of Santa Claus. Lighting a candle for this white bearded man could be a good idea.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2015