Molyvos Life

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Liz Stolls

Liz Stolls

 moved to this idyllic Greek island of Lesvos to marry a Greek farmer. Some say I was brave, some say foolhardy. We started a successful horse and donkey trekking business, built a house, had two daughters – but split up after 12 years. I’m still living here and in Berlin, writing and teaching English. My history: IN GREECE: Published various EFL textbooks, articles (shortlisted for the Independent on Sunday/Bradt Travel Writing Award 2004) Written tourism publicity copy.Created and managed tourist excursion business. Published writing textbook “Options” New Editions, Athens, reprinted 2009. IN UK: Press & Publicity Manager, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, responsible for all media liaison and publicity campaigns. Freelance publicist for various companies incl: Not the RSC, Extemporary Dance,UK Foundation for Dance, etc. Co-organised training seminar for touring company publicists for the Arts Council of Great Britain. Wrote reviews for Performance magazine. Journalist- news reporting and features for the London Eve News/Standard and Reading Evening Post.

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