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A Greek Jewel

There is an American film made in 1954 that sometimes reminds me of Molyvos. It is called ‘Brigadoon’ directed by Vincente Minnelli and it tells the story of a magical Scottish village of that name that rises out of the mists once in one hundred years so that the inhabitant may enjoy one day of their lives before it sinks back into timelessness for another one hundred years. Two American trout fishermen wander into the village and find that they never want to return to the so-called real world. When they finally do so they are affected by an excruciating nostalgia for the place they have lost.

The similarities with Molyvos are startling and not a little disturbing. I have been coming to Molyvos for over forty years now with my partner Julie Copeland and I have known visitors who have strayed into the village (your uncle and aunt were two such people, Melinda) who came for a few weeks and never left. You can sometimes see these time lord castaways wandering along its beaches and sheltered coves behaving like bird watchers but in fact looking, in a somewhat bemused way, for a key out of the place.

Molyvos spins a special kind of enchantment. It is geographically an island attached to an island. It sits on its peninsula like a jewel brought up out of the depths by a skin diver with a pastoral mixture of farmland, habitat and seascapes on three sides. Wherever you look Nature is there. The mother island, Lesbos is always somewhere else, on the horizon, or looking over our shoulders. This location recreates a special ambience, a perfect balance between nature and culture.

I come here each year to write. There must be some kind of creative pact between me and the village that I don’t remember signing, some kind of erotic electricity because the feeling when I return is not just that this is in many ways my second home (although that is a fantasy – I know like the two American fishermen in Scotland somewhere in the back of my head that it isn’t and that I will have to leave – but that I am being plugged into a mysterious kind of cosmic force. The creative juices loosen up after the tough round of teaching at a film school, freelancing as a critic and broadcaster and generally trying to make trouble for whichever government is in power in Australia. And I begin to write as though I had never left my desk here. I don’t keep count of the number of poems I have composed in Molyvos but I do know that I have written over fifty short stories and five novels while being comfortably ensconced in one of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever seen. Best of all the village is still somewhat difficult to get to, especially from the Antipodes. The relative, the tax collector, the student asking for immediate attention can’t find you here.

This other neutral space, keeping the rest of the world at arm’s length, also applies to the village’s inhabitants. One day I am going to sit down and write a soap opera (day time television and Ophrah will love it). We can go away and come back the following year and there is always an electrifying family drama taking place or continuing the next exciting episode somewhere: the last mayor has run off with the village post mistress; the proprietor of a local pensione has been transformed into a Greek version of Faulty Towers and thrown out all his clients from England because he doesn’t like the sound of the language; a mad animal loving Swedish couple has tried to take a dozen cats- tom, feline and ten kittens – back to Stockholm in a basket disguised as a container for fetta cheese. I must say that your own family too is pretty good on the domestic drama chapters. At this level Molyvos reminds me of one of those big shell-like Greek theatres with the principals groaning and tearing out their hair while a line up of townspeople playing the chorus mutter into their coffees and ouzos that nothing good can come of such public carry-ons.

It is true that time brings change. We have lived together through the dark years of the military dictatorship, the hardships and sometimes poverty of a village in those days of the sixties and seventies depending on its fishermen and farmers for sustenance and the first years after the collapse of the junta when the tourist buses and package tours began to pour into the place bringing great changes, not always tactful, no, let’s face it downright ugly, to its valley and foreshore. But somehow behind the commercial crassness that did bring jobs and financial relief to many the real village, the timeless village still sits there in the labyrinthine allies and winding stone staircases so that I can say hello to Therapiotis stitching his nets on the doorstep of his house or your stepfather, the ‘captain’ of the Captain’s Table whom I have known since he was about eighteen, a boy going to do military service and now a great sea captain sitting in his retirement having a parea with his mates outside one of the cafenios. Or the women who screech the gossip across the rooftops: ‘Akous’ Kale!!’ The many microcosmic kindnesses from such people that make this not just a holiday place but a living, breathing organism. In that sense its sense of a community, of a humanism that still values the individual and gives us, its guests a space to be individuals, is timeless.

There are tough times descending on Greece. The money men will pack their carpet bags and do a runner. The international tour operators will move on to Syria, Morocco or Madagascar. Perhaps the village will have to rethink its way of life as indeed the rest of Greece will. But this quality that I am trying (and failing) to pin down, this marvellous beauty invested by light, calm and sensuality as the poet Verlaine dreamed of, inhabited by decent, hard working and parea loving individualists, will survive and thrive. It is like the myth of the lost island of Atlantis that rose out of the water and sat above a jewel faceted sea and became a touchstone for the classical world of a perfectly balanced civilization, the Golden Mean which the actual classical world hardly ever achieved in spite of its rhetoric and its searching. We are the lucky ones who accidentally stumbled upon Atlantis.

(C) Dr. John Slavin

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Kalo Taxithi Tony Barrell

‘Kalo Taxithi’  is a common Greek term used to wish a special person a good journey into their spiritual after life.

A great friend of Molyvos who will be much missed – Tony Barrell  7 May 1940 – 31 March 2011

Traveller, journalist and writer, Tony Barrell made his first visit to Molyvos in 1970 and quickly became part of the village – his second home.Tony Molyvos 1970s

We are all saddened by the news of his death from a heart attack on March 31st 2011. He died in his sleep after a wonderful evening of laughter and reminiscence with friends including my mother, Jennifer.

Last summer, Tony and his wife Jane had a great gathering here to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their first visit. He always enjoyed staying here and hated leaving. At the time of his death he was still in the process of writing a book with Jane “Your island, My island”.

A very giving person, he was always so willing to help me with projects which needed writing or photographing. It has taken me a long time to write this tribute. A good friend, he will never now be able to keep his promise to come and stay in beautiful Mystegna in the Kyparissis Beach Houses on the east coast of the island.

During one of his many visits, he met a Dutch woman, Julie, who writes a blog about Lesvos and he helped to correct her English translations. She edited her writing into a book which has just been published. She had been so looking forward to reading his final review of it.

As touched as all of us, she has written the following tribute:

A farewell to Tony

Now that I finally changed as well in also
Now that you teached me fishes are fish
And after so many other English corrections
You left us.

After you did this huge job
In correcting and commenting on my columns
And finally the book
You left us

Without me having a chance to pay you back
In dinners and fish
Without me reading
The Final Review

Reading about you
You were more than great in Australia
Writing about so many topics
And finally again about Japan

Here on the other end of the world
Where the news of a shark kept papers alive
You left your traces in friendships
And dinners and party’s

I have been lucky
That one day you and Jane walked into my house
And so we met
And so we worked

Here in the country
Where old history
Of brave wars and great philosophers
Seem to live so close with modern live

You found an island of peace
Sunken into the blue Mediterranean
Where Greeks and foreigners
Mingled into a life of happiness

Here in the little town of Molyvos
For decennia you came back again and again
And now Molyvos lost another
Of its big writers.

Tony, thank you for everything!

Julie Smit

Tony Barrell (7 mei 1940 – 31 maart 2011)

http://smitaki.blogspot.com/

Addio TONY by Julie Copeland.

Our friendship with Tony Barrell & Jane Norris goes back a long way: Jane and I go back 50 years (!)  when we first worked together in a Melbourne theatre troupe, and later, living in London, where she met Tony.

In 1969, when John Slavin and I were first living in Molyvos, I sent Jane a postcard saying something like: `we’ve found the place we’ve been looking for – do come and see!’

And so they did, arriving from London in the village Spring of 1970 – and the rest is history.

Naturally Greece was then a very different place; Molivos was much poorer, much smaller –  but they `got it’, proving over the years to be more adventurous explorers than us, hiking around the coast (before there was a road) to Skala Skamia, while later Tony and his old friend, the English writer Roger Deakin looked like swashbuckling pirates, as they strode through the island in search of ancient trees, on many excursions accompanied by Heinz Horn, who still knows the island terrain better than anyone.

We shared  houses, good and bad times, often dramatic times; ferocious winter winds when I recall us all crawling  behind the parapet on our hands and knees into the agora, unable to stand, as the gale hurled roof tiles like missiles around us; we lived through the years of the military dictatorship; good friends have died and are buried there.

One was our very special friend, Nassos Theofilou, author of several untranslatable books, librettos, lyrics, etc.

Tony made a radio feature based on one of Nassos’ stories about his grandmother, complete with the sounds of Molyvos which  Tony continued to record over the years – many, many audio hours of sheep bells, doves, fishing boats – everything!

Tony was drawn to Nassos’ sense of the bizarre, his crazy humour, as despite language differences, they punned and joked together.. they were in many ways soul mates – but like Tony, a few years ago Nassos died suddenly of a heart attack, far too young.

However, one of our (several!) important summer rituals continued to be sharing his widow Lydia’s large, delicious dinners – and lots of ouzo! – under the stars and olive trees out at the Theofilou farm, accompanied by the owls and the cats.

Last summer, with our Molyvos friends, including Lydia, we shared another significant ritual, when Jane rounded us up to celebrate her and Tony”s 40th anniversary year in the village.  There we all were, people from many places, on the terrace of the old house they rented – a miracle of connections.

Tony really loved the island, where he became a different person.  (Their daughter Klio shares her name with the village up the coast! )   Jane maintained the best tonic for his health problems was his return visits to Molyvos

Most of all he loved the people, their company and their stories – the crazier the better!.  He loved swimming in the cold, clear sea, excursions exploring the island, he loved the landscape.

Some time back Jane got serious about making a film tracing the extraordinary pull that Molyvos has had, and continues to have, on people who visit, stay or live there.

Our Molyvos friends have been shocked at the news of Tony’s death; Lesbos summers will never be the same, and we shall surely miss him.

for tributes, listings and audio of Tony’s work, you can go to the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) site: abc.net.au/rn

& type in search `tony barrell’

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/360/features/tonybarrell/


GOODBYE TO THE MYTH OF MITHIMNA

THERE’S a myth among British birdwatchers that the ONLY place worth staying on Lesvos is Skala Kalloni.

It’s a misconception probably shared by birders from other European countries who flock to the island for each spring and autumn migration.

Only those in the know seem to choose  Molivos –  or Mithimna to give it its historic name – as their base.

Well, in my humble opinion as an avid birdwatcher, it’s about time someone banished this myth about Mithimna.

When it comes to finding a perfect place to combine birdwatching with walking in spectacular, hilly scenery, having a massive choice of eating places and history around every corner, then Molivos is the place to be

Is there any nicer place in the whole world to round off a day’s birding than with a meal on Molivos harbour side, watchingdolphins and diving terns in the fading light?

Skala Kalloni with its salt pans is only a 40 minutes drive away.

All around Molivos are superb places to seek out the birds – some of them rather rare – from dense olive groves to the magnificent coastal strip between Eftalou and Skala Sikamnia. 

Even among the narrow streets and alleyways of the old town, there are birds to be seen and heard. You just have to look and listen.

Swallows nest under almost every  canopy and overhang of buildings.  Most years, for instance, they successfully rear young on top of an ornamental coach lantern under the canopy of  The Captain’s Table restaurant on the harbour.

As darkness falls, the monotonous  call of the Scops owl can be heard around the town squares and among the eucalyptus trees alongside the school.

The sound is reminiscent of the slow “peeps” of the Greenwich time signal.

Molivos is a place where it is usual to spot the unusual.


Floodlights which illuminate the castle are a magnet to moths and other flying insects. So birds such as nightjars and little owls are quick to take advantage of the ready meals.

Last year, barn owls, little owls and kestrels all nested within a few yards of each other in stone crevices  near the castle’s main entrance.

Keep an eye on the sea, too. Some years, thousands of

Mediterranean shearwaters can be seen in the huge bay between the harbour and the Kavaki headland. At times there are so many it looks like a giant oil slick.

The headland itself, near the “disco on stilts”, is known as one of the best places in Europe to see the very rare Ruppell’s Warbler.

Inland, the reservoir off the Vafios road is a good place to see Eleanora’s falcons hunting for dragon flies. Many other birds can also be “ticked” here.

In our 16 years of holidays in Molivos – sometimes twice a year – my wife Sheila and I always  see at least 120 species.

Really keen birdwatchers can expect many more than that.

FRANK WOOD, press officer for the Bolton area of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in North West England.

Walking with Eva

Hi my name is Eva and I am an “outdoor-person”.

I first came to the island as a child and explored Lesvos with my father who was a great storyteller and made history come alive for us children.Later after my education in publishing and sports I came back to the magic island and have lived on Lesvos ever since.

I love nature and this is something for which this island is renowned.

Lesvos surprises with a varying many-faceted  Mediterranean landscape.

Rich in flora and fauna, silvery olive groves, green pine woods and wild volcanic scenery.

Lesvos with its great scenery and stunning views combines  the natural worlds of the east and west  – Asia and Europe.

For nearly ten years now I have organized  and led individual walks on this fascinating island.

I enjoy leading people through uncharted terrain, making it safe and enjoyable for all of us, usually in small groups.

My walks are tailor-made to the needs and wishes of the participants.Long walks, short walks, cultural and historical walks, adventure walks, romantic walks and sooo many more, all over the island.

After spending the day in the natural world and experiencing the special atmosphere of  this island we all,  by the end of the day, have made new friends.

On our hikes through the countryside we dicover  picturesque villages, fabulous views, hidden monasteries, and ruins of bygone eras. The routes take us along donkey tracks, old pilgrim trails and long forgotten stony mountain paths, sometimes crossing streams, scrambling over boulders, fences and hedges. On the way we meet up with donkeys, sheep and goats, perhaps a falcon, buzzard or jay even a tortoise or salamander. One memorable time in early springtime I was accompanied by an eagle up in the air . It gave my a very special feeling.

We sometimes take a midday break at a rural taverna, with scenic views or directly overlooking the Aegean,  we  may also enjoy a picnic straight out of our  backpacks somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the silence of the mountains or  with  the sound of the sea.

You may also like to know more specific details about the flora and fauna of the island, as  well as history, and information about contemporary Greek life, You can find me at: www.wandern-auf-lesvos.de or mail me wander@otenet.de

I wish you a lot of fun exploring this fascinating Island, see you in Lesvos

Eva