“What is the secret of its charm – the feeling of restful ease it gives you while you navigate those dazzling white streets punctuated with whole balconies and bowers of flowers in bloom?” Lawrence Durrell
Kim woke early this morning and did her best to invite me to join her in a state of consciousness by banging doors, turning the lights on, opening the blue shutters to let the screaming sunlight inside the room and by using the hair dryer! Although I was vaguely aware of some of this inappropriate anti-social activity I resisted the move from slumber to wakefulness and in the end she conceded defeat and went for a walk by herself along to the beach. I woke an hour or so later and found her wandering along the seashore enjoying the early morning sunshine.
After breakfast in the hotel we walked the short distance to Paroikia past a row of gaily coloured fishing boats where leather skinned men with gnarled and calloused hands and smelling unashamedly of sea creatures were rearranging nets, carrying out repairs and sorting through the remains of the previous night’s catch, the best of it long gone to the restaurant owners who had been here much earlier and only tiddlers and odd looking scraps left now which were being picked over and were destined either for the fishermen’s grilled lunch or rejection and disposal back into the sea.
It’s a sad fact that we have always previously neglected Paros, being a busy ferry hub this has always been a place to rush through on the way to somewhere else so today it was time to put that right and give the place the courtesy of a proper visit and behind the untidy ribbon of harbour front fast food bars, travel agents and car hire offices we slipped into the tiny streets of the timeless old town.
Here there was an eclectic mix of modern chic boutiques, old fashioned mini markets and the inevitable tourist shops (actually, a few more shops than I am generally comfortable with, I have to say) rubbing shoulders with blue domed churches, Venetian villas in various stages of neglect and restoration, bars and a Kastro.
The narrow cobbled streets invited exploration and as we walked around some led to surprises and others led to nowhere in particular but all around were white washed walls, blue doors and fences and fading menu boards and the place was filled with the familiar smells of the Greek Islands, heavy incense from behind the church doors, fresh lamb moussaka from the tavernas and Tide washing powder spilling out through the open doors and windows of the houses where people went about their daily chores. Although it was a year since we had last been in Greece it was as though we had never been away and we stopped frequently to sniff the air and fill our heads with the pot pourri of the scents and aromas of the Cyclades.
Eventually we left the old town and emerged in a large square with one of the most important churches in all of Greece, the fourth century Panagia Ekatontapyliani, which means Our Lady of a Hundred Doors,and is the oldest remaining Byzantine church in Greece. According to legend, ninety-nine doors have been found in the church so far and the hundredth will be discovered only after Constantinople is Greek again*. This church was unusually welcoming to inappropriately dressed tourists insisting only that they behave with respect and keep their voices down.
We duly noted this and went through the heavy doors into an alternative world of black robed beardy priests, local worshippers and travelling pilgrims all lining up to kiss the lavish icons of their favourite Saints. Outside and around the church there were old fashioned stores selling various cards each with a picture of a part of the body. If you have a bad leg then you buy a leg picture, a poorly arm an elbow picture and so on and then you take this to the Church and ask for a cure and leave it there so that God doesn’t just forget about it after you have gone and these were fastened in bunches to railings and picture frames. All of this icon kissing means quite a lot of unwanted spit and saliva of course so to deal with this, cleaning ladies with spray cleaners and dusters circulated constantly to deal with the slobber and the germs on a continuous and never ending polishing circuit of the church.
Back outside we bought ferry tickets for the next leg of our journey to Amorgos and then we set about the important business of comparing Greek salad and Mythos prices in the bars and tavernas because this is the benchmark we use when we make decisions about dining arrangements. €5 and €3 respectively seemed to about the average price so there was no inflation shock there to deal with so we selected one and spent a pleasant half an hour watching the town go about its business.
During this time it became clear that we needed to reassess our opinion of Paros. We had only really seen it as an impatient heaving mass of traffic and people that accompanies the arrival and departure of a ferry but in the intervening periods it settles down into the same soporific slumber as all of the other islands.
We liked it!
* A core concept in Greek Nationalism is the Megali, or Great, idea which envisages a greater Greece and occupation of parts of what is now modern Turkey. It is summed up most appropriately by the words of Greek politician Ioannis Kolettis in 1844: ‘There are two great centres of Hellenism. Athens is the capital of the Kingdom. Constantinople is the great capital, the City, the dream and hope of all Greeks.’
The Great Idea was not merely the product of 19th century nationalism. It was, in one of its aspects, deeply rooted in many Greeks’ religious consciousnesses. This aspect was the recovery of Constantinople for Christendom and the reestablishment of the Christian Byzantine Empire which had fallen in 1453. Ever since this time the recovery of St. Sophia and the City had been handed down from generation to generation as the destiny and aspiration of the Greek Orthodox.
The Megali Idea, besides Constantinople, included most traditional lands of the Greeks including Crete, Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace, the Aegean Islands, Cyprus, the coastlands of Asia Minor and Pontus on the Black Sea. Asia Minor was an essential part of the Greek world and an area of enduring Greek cultural dominance. The last time Greece came close to achieving this aspiration was during the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) which ultimately ended in Greek defeat and is still referred to today as the ‘Great Catastrophe’.
Kalymnos 2012 and a ninety year anniversary remembrance service