During the night we experienced the downside of having a cheap and rustic studio apartment – it was incredibly loud! The air conditioning chattered like a cicada, the fridge kept switching on and off with an ancient motor mechanism that sounded like a battering ram and every so often the shower head in the bathroom filled with water and discharged with a splash into the tray. This was bad enough but worst of all were the beds, Kim’s croaked like a frog every time she turned over and mine quacked like a duck every time I moved and eventually we were very glad that it was morning.
It was a cool start today because it took the sun some time to peek above the five hundred metre high grey splintered and pitted mountain that towered up directly behind the small resort of Myrties and the Aphrodite Apartments and the place remained in shade while villagers in the best suits hurried to the nearby church and morning worship until well after breakfast.
After a week or so it was time for a shave and I mention this not because I think you might be interested in my ablutions but because I have noticed a curious thing about bathroom wash basins in Greek hotels. In almost every one there is a notice on the wall explaining how precious water is and requesting guests not to waste it – so curious then that there is hardly ever a basin plug and if there is then it more than likely will not fit and the water just pours away into the u bend and beyond. Surely if they are serious about being careful with water then it would be sensible to provide a simple piece of rubber on a chain to make sure that to take a shave or to wash your hands you don’t have to keep the tap running continuously!
It was time to collect the car from the rental office down the road and after I had completed the necessary paperwork and jointly inspected the vehicle with the Swedish clerk we took possession of a flame red Suzuki jeep for the day and set off immediately to the capital Pothia stopping briefly on the way at a ruined castle which overlooked the town.
We parked the car near the harbour and walked around the quayside and I am sorry to say but I think it looks better from a distance than right up close and the colourful pastel coloured buildings arranged in boxes one on top of another that I imagined looked like those in Symi were not nearly as photogenic.
Suddenly the traffic in the town came to a sudden halt from all directions and the reason for this was a remembrance service that was taking place by the side of the harbour and which required a fifteen minute road closure while a beardy priest in rusty black robes led a service and one by one people were called forward to lay a wreath on a memorial statue. Intrigued to know what it was all about we waited for it to finish and then enquired and were told that it was to commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-22.
This was interesting. 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.’
Deeply rooted in the religious consciousnesses of Greece, the Great Idea gained momentum as a consequence of nineteenth century nationalism. It aspired to the recovery of Constantinople for Christendom and the reestablishment of the Christian Byzantine Empire which had fallen in 1453 and was/is seen as the rightful destiny of the Greek Orthodox Church.
As well as Constantinople, the Megali 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 considered 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 which was the result of uncharacteristic aggression and ultimately ended in Greek defeat and is still referred to today as the ‘Great Catastrophe’.
Life can sometimes throw up an amazing coincidence and what made this even more interesting was that purely by chance Kim was at this very time reading a historical novel which was based on this very event.
After the service ended we continued our walk around the waterfront and through the adjacent streets and as the temperature continued to rise towards the high thirties we retraced our steps and stopped for a short while in a pavement café to enjoy the shade and a cold drink and then suitably refreshed we returned to the jeep and set off around the coast road to explore some more of the island.