photo by Stratos Kalafatis
«A barren rock, such fragile, such human protection, will always be sufficient to isolate me…»
Jean Grenier, The Islands
My ties with the ‘island of love’, or ‘of the devil’ (as the media call it) are blood ties – no ties could be stronger: it is the island of my origin and, most of all, the island of my childhood summers. And thus my knowledge and my feelings give me some right to speak.
So, Mykonos is feminine in gender, and deceitful; an innocent villager, a joker, derisive, utterly poor; she likes festivals and dancing, singing and wine. Her people love the sea, respect death, remember the dead, they call each other by nicknames. Their speech, very individual, has the rhythms of song, originating from Crete. Memories of Venice and of the Turkish Occupation are still preserved in her dialect; in her few great mansions, you find porcelain from the Crimea; in a few places they remember grandfathers who emigrated to America, everywhere they remember fathers who moved, poverty-stricken to Athens, became builders and built whole neighbourhoods.
Until the coming of political change in 1974, Mykonos floated, itself unchanged in time, its country-houses without electricity, half its beaches still untrodden (some until 1980), its farmers and fishermen living as their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had, as their self-governing forebears in the 18th century in the Commune of Mykoniots. That Mykonos, so close, was identical with the Sicily of Pirandello in the ‘Kaos’ of the Taviani brothers; identical with the Chios of Dimos Avdeliodis in ‘Tree we Wounded’: that’s how we swam. That’s what people were like. That’s why I weep when I see those films.
That dazzling ancient life was unveiled eternally in Aris Konstantinidis “Country-Houses“, where people cooked with cow-dung, they had very little water in the dried-up wells, they had the Dream-Book in the window facing North, and photographs of mustachioed ancestors on the wall. Close by, in Chora, town life always ran its slow course, its sounds, sounds from Egypt, from Smyrna, from Syros, from the Black Sea, Piraeus, Joliet Illinois. Artists came to the annex of the School of Fine Arts, people of letters scholars, travellers (in the beginning they didn’t call them tourists). In the summer the Mykoniots of the diaspora came sailing in, opened up their basements, let air into the country-houses, the dispora-children wandering through the white labyrinth that is Chora, they rode donkeys, hunted birds with limed twigs, took the communion of light and dry wall. Mykonos is all light and wall.
All the islands were like that, as many as I saw until 1980, Paros shining white, Nios utterly dry, the Tinos inland, thrilling pre-tourist Santorini, huge Naxos…
Later, the island made one terrible leap from its Hesodian plough into turbo-postmodernism. The island of light and of innocence, of playful flirting, of generous love was turned into a monster of mixed blood, spilling over, devoid of land, devoid of mountain contours, devoid of any horizon, with an unholy airport, tormenting motorways, with helicopters, yachts, with swimming pools, each swallowing up as much water as a big family would use for a whole summer. A cross of Hollywood, Loutsa and Glyfada. Developing Greece in miniature – shocking, but faithfully drawn.
As the 21st century begins, this Mykonos, always full of light, but most of the dry wall now gone, stands there still, at the centre of the Cycladic Isles, next to her famous sister, sacred Dilos, saleswoman and whore, next to her sister Tinos, Island of Holy Grace, next to Syros, struggling for the tourist trade. She stands there, always feminine, smothered in the concrete and the arrogance of her colonists, heavy, unprotected. After the elegies of the poets, after the prophetic song of her own dark turtle-dove, Melpo Axioti, now came her fate – to hear the nonsense of CNN, to hear her story, not from Camus or Karagatsis, but from every piece of scum who learnt her in two weeks of late nights in Pierro’s Bar. The time has come to call her the island of coke and the devil – that same scum.
All will pass. They will evaporate into the light of the Archipelago, and Mykonos will remain as the many-faceted symbol of ruin, a concentration of the metaphysics of the Aegean, a monument to the Vanity Fair of the beginning of the 21st century.