“After the furrowed grey wastes of the water surrounding our islands (The UK) the huge vivacity of the Mediterranean never ceased to astonish. Here it was splashed all-over with plum-coloured stains of weed-beds among which bald rocks just below the surface were brilliant uncut emeralds (and) water thrashing in the deep coves rose and fell, uncovering and submerging great shining boulders…” – Norman Lewis, ‘Voices of the Old Sea’
When in Greece in September we always make space in the itinerary for Ios because this is where we meet old friends and return to the best hotel in the Cyclades– Homer’s Inn!
Our normal routine on Ios is to spend the day around the port and on the beach and then visit the Chora for the sunset and for evening meal. This year to be different we decided to visit the main town in the morning to see what it was like during the day.
Actually it wasn’t so nice and whilst the evening darkness disguises all the evidence of clubbers and boozers it was all viciously exposed early in the morning. Discarded bottles and cans in the corners and clubs and bars that look glittery and inviting in the gloom looking cheap and nasty in the cold light of day.
We walked to the top and admired the views of the port and on the way down stopped to talk to some fellow travellers. As we exchanged stories I saw what I thought was a lizard but quickly realised that it was a snake. Olive brown and about a metre long it slithered by and disappeared into a tiny crack in the steps. Later I made enquiries and was told that a local naturist had reintroduced these serpents to the island and that they were poisonous.
I am all for preserving the natural environment but that is just plain daft, as daft as Eugene Schieffelin introducing the starling into the USA or Thomas Austin releasing rabbits into the Australian outback. Daft also because although there is a medical centre on Ios for anything serious the only treatment is on the mainland and a snake bite would mean airlifting by ambulance back to Athens.
We walked around the steep and narrow streets and arthritic crooked alleys as far as the abandoned windmills and through the shops that line the main street through the village and then back to Homer’s Inn down the dusty track and after a short sojourn went for another walk to the harbour and along the coast road to the little church on the headland.
The road out of the village runs past the business end of the harbour and there were some brightly painted boats that had just landed their overnight catch and were negotiating sales with local people and restaurant owners in a babble of animated activity.
It looked like a good night’s work and the trading was brisk. The fish looked interesting and on closer examination of the produce it soon becomes clear why we have to put up with stock shortages whilst the most of the rest of Europe have such an abundance of choice; we are just far too fussy about what we will eat and our preference for fish is restricted to two or three species that we have fished into crisis and near extinction whilst in Greece, as elsewhere, they will eat a much greater variety of sea food.
On top of the church there was a Greek flag that was flapping uncontrollably in the wind and trying desperately to separate itself from the pole that was hanging onto it.
The blue and white flag of Greece is called ‘Galanolefci’, which simply means ‘blue and white’. Originally it was blue with a white diagonal cross but the cross has now been moved to the upper left corner, and is symbolic of the Christian faith.
Being a seafaring nation, the blue of the flag represents the colour of the sea. White is the colour of freedom, which is something that is very important to the Greeks after years of enslavement under foreign domination. The nine stripes of the flag each symbolise a syllable in the Greek motto of freedom: E-LEY-THE-RI-A-I-THA-NA-TOS, which translates literally into ‘Freedom or Death’.
There were preparations at the church for a wedding and a christening and later Kim returned to see the wedding and I joined her later for the baptism to see the ceremony of a little girl being accepted into the Christian Orthodox Church, which is a major event in the life of any Greek family.
A Greek baptism is a sacred and religious rite that is performed to cleanse the soul and renounce Satan. The baptism is a complex initiation that starts with an exorcism and officially ends forty days later when the baby is presented to the congregation to receive Holy Communion.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to stop for the full forty days and we began to feel a bit like intruders on a private family event so before it was all over we left the church and returned to the harbour and instead of going to the Chora, tonight we ate next to the fishing boats that were being prepared for another night at sea at a place called the Octopus where, at pavement tables next to the fishermen, we were served excellent food and fresh fish that we had seen being landed just a few hours earlier.
We stayed on Ios for four days and then prepared to move on to the island of Syros.