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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

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/


The end of the season.

This is a difficult period of time for most of us. The end of the summer season means a totally different way of life here. Now we have time to focus on our own domestic lives again with family and friends. From working all hours we are now suddenly free and don’t seem to know what to do with our time. There are autumn jobs to do but nothing is urgent – so I usually end up doing nothing. All summer, life has been ruled by the opening hours of the restaurant and now we need a lot of self discipline to plan our days.

I still wake up in the morning with that feeling of dread – 10 hours non-stop in the restaurant – and then suddenly realise that I can actually go back to sleep if I want to. No restaurant for another 5 months!

In one way, it’s as if a weight has lifted from my shoulders –  but another in now placed there. All the things that we promised to do during winter are now waiting for us to start, cleaning  the house, exercise classes, helping out in the village community, etc.

It usually takes about a month before I can comfortably adjust to this new pace of life.

Then Christmas is upon us and we have to start organising the festivities – open-air fetes, carol-singing, lighting the village christmas tree, etc. I like taking part in village life. I don’t feel comfortable being a full time mother or even a full time wife at first. I miss meeting all the people we get to know in the summer and enjoying the out-of-doors lifestyle during the season. Yet, when the time comes when I have to give it all up again at the beginning of the new season, it is equally as difficult.

Melinda

http://www.lesvosaccommodation.com

Magic Green Vegetables

Last week I went for a beautiful walk with some friends in the southern part of the island. I had heard of an organic farm close to a village called Milies and had been thinking of going to visit it.

Well, spring was in the air, and on Saturday night over a glass of wine we decided to go – “we” being Melinda, Evelina, Amber and me.

We have all been living on Lesvos for a long time. Melinda has been here since she was a toddler, Evelina is from Molivos, grew up in Athens, but has been back here for nearly 20 years now.

I have also been in town for nearly 20 years and Amber, who is Dutch like me, has been here nearly 10 years. But, since the island is so big, there is still lots we haven’t seen yet. Amber is actually the  real explorer. She loves to go walking with her dog Bella every day or with friends and her uncle Jan, who lives here as well.

In the end we were lucky, because Jan decided to come as well and he has a jeep so we didn’t have to make a detour, but could drive from the village of Agiassos and past the former mental sanitorium that is now used as an official shelter home for young refugees under 16, often from Afghanistan, who have landed here by boat from Turkey.

After the shelter the road became a dirt track with fantastic views over the bay of Geras and some steep slopes. I have a terrible fear of heights  but  was quite relaxed about it as the slopes are covered in pine trees so I couldn’t really see how high we were. After about an hour we arrived in Karionas, where we parked the car at the local taverna. It was closed, but in typically trusting Greek fashion, a big bag of bread was hanging outside the door, so we were pretty sure that on our way back we would be able to have a nice lunch there.

In Karionas we split up, because Amber and Jan had done the walk already and were going to do another one this time. Evelina, Melinda and I hit the road to the farm.It was a dirt track again, through pine forest and olive groves. It was nice to see that most of the olive groves had signs saying they were organic.More and more olive  farmers around Molyvos have also changed to organic farming which means no spraying of the trees with chemical pesticides.

After less then an hour we reached the farm. It is also a holiday place with some cottages, a café and stables for horses. The horses are used to explore the surroundings, but there are also mountain bikes and guided tours on foot. However, although we had phoned to say we were coming, we didn’t find anybody and, after a look around, we decided to go to Milies, the next village, which is now nearly deserted with only 2 or 3 inhabitants. (there were around 400 in 1920).

We rested at the fountain next to the church and refilled our water bottles because it was going to be uphill on the way back and very warm, I had stripped down to a t-shirt.

For more shade we took a small paved path. We saw some horses and passed the farm again. Now the café was open and an old lady greeted us warmly. We had missed her before because she had been cleaning the cottages as they were expecting guests. Unbelievable! She was 85 years old and still working hard. The timing wasn’t so good because it was now her lunchtime so we just drank a glass of water, had a little chat with her, and then left her to her lunch, which was standing on the table and was no more than bread and a plate of wild greens that she had probably gathered herself.

No wonder she was still cleaning rooms at her age. We had got quite hungry ourselves and were eager to go back to the taverna at Karionas and have lunch. We knew what we wanted for our veggies!

The timing was perfect. Jan and Amber had just arrived. But the taverna was closed even though the bread was gone and there was a car there that hadn’t been there that morning.

So we drove to Perama, a beautiful fishing village at the golf of Geras, and ,besides a big variety of fish, what was on the menu?…. magic wild greens. Why do I call them magic? Because from now on, I’ll be eating them. Who knows – maybe I will be still cleaning my own holiday house when I am 85.

Karen