When I awoke today I knew it was winter at last.
The mountains pressed close to the little island and the colours had seeped out of the landscape, only the brilliant shades of the bougainvillea still held the vibrancy of summer.
I walked down the old coast road to the supermarket. Once the main road to Neorion, it is now little more than a donkey track, and weaves reassuringly between some of the old stone houses of Poros now more and more frequently interspersed with the new breezeblock apartment buildings.
Still, it was easy to lose myself in the past as the first wood fires of winter threw their smoke into the sky and the new crop of oranges and lemons bobbed in the breeze.
The fig trees, much loved in the summer for their leafy shade now stand awkward and redundant, soon to drop their leaves and become stark statues in the winter landscape – but only until one day when the first green shoots can be seen on the branches, bringing the messages of spring and the promise of summer to come.
There are few people about today, no sign of Eleni on the balcony of the hotel, though the door is open so she can’t be far away. One shout and she would appear, eyes sparkling with laughter and curiosity. But I am in a hurry and don’t call out for we have the whole winter for the chats and the gossip which make up such a large part of the island life.
The supermarket is busy and hums with the bits and pieces of conversation half heard coming from behind the fruit juices. I slip easily into Greek, forgetting the earlier agonies of trying to remember the word for cheese and then not daring to ask for some because I had no idea how many grams I wanted. Now though, there is even time for a joke before I slip out and head for home. Gina meets me by the little church and insists on escorting me back. She is a tiny blob of a dog belonging to my Albanian neighbours and she has a personality way in excess of her size.
I call her the ‘levitating ball of fluff’ for she leaps very high from virtually a standing position and with her coat brushed she is almost as wide as she is long. Her daily visits result in the rugs and furniture flying, for she has limitless energy and closely resembles a whirling dervish.
Today she is in one of her more responsible moods as she escorts me safely to the bottom of my mountain. And then, suddenly I have the answer to the problem I have been considering all morning, the problem that precipitated the walk to the supermarket. Where shall I start this Odyssey of island life, my very own Iliad? Of course, I must begin at the end, well an ending anyhow. I must start with a leaving!
You can depart from Poros in many ways but most of our visitors prefer to do it by boat, leaving the faster Flying Dolphins to the people who live here and are anxious to reach their destination, knowing that they will soon be back. But some people do not know if they will ever be back and so it is best to leave slowly, savouring the last sight of this magical little island. You stand there watching the cubic houses of the old town slowly merge into a picture from a child’s colouring book. The blue dome on top of the clock tower stands out like a beacon as it gets smaller and smaller, and it seems as though there is a cord tying you to the place, a cord which stretches as the boat moves away, faster and faster now, tearing you from friends and memories and dreams. And something else, but what? A sense of belonging perhaps? Familiar places pass, the pretty bay of Neorion, with the bus trundling down the hill to the local tavernas where newly made friends still sit drinking coffee or beer for they are not leaving yet. Love Bay, so aptly named (!) and Russian Bay with the little island of Daskalion sitting low in the bay, its tiny church a brilliant white against the blue of the sea. Next comes the point light, sleeping soundly in the hot sun whilst a friendly herd of goats cluster round its base for company.
And now… but something is happening for the boat is turning and within seconds Poros has gone and the cord snaps. You stand looking back in disbelief. Was it ever really there, this fantasy island in the Saronic Gulf? Well, if you never come back you will never be completely sure!
Almost without thinking now you find yourself moving away from the back of the boat, into the bar maybe with its noisy computer games and that throb of Greek conversation which never seems to stop. Or perhaps you just move to the side of the boat and watch the dotted villages of the mainland slide away. Certainly by the time you reach Methana your mood will have changed and you will have started to think about the rest of your journey home.
‘Home’ – such an emotive word.
Is it really just the place where your heart is? I think not. Home is also the place where you understand the culture, the traditions, the history and, of course, at least something of the language. I have lived in Greece for quite a number of years now and somewhere during those years it has begun to feel like home. The first ‘leaving’ was terrible but the first ‘return’ – well, that was something else.
The excitement really starts to build once you are safely aboard the boat in Piraeus.
I suppose the Flying Dolphins are better for your return, for you have been suffering a form of impatience to be there that they are most able to satisfy, but we left on the boat so let us return that way.
As the clock ticks onto the hour you hear the rumble of the engines and the slight vibration as they settle into a rhythm and almost imperceptibly you slip away from the quay leaving the other ferries behind teasing you with their images of Crete and Santorini and Mykonos.
The Pappastratos sign provides a familiar landmark until that too slowly fades and you are leaving the hustle, bustle and noise of the big city behind. Ahead lies the open sea, foreground the huge oil tankers framed by the hills of Salamis.
Then they too disappear and you find yourself looking ahead of the boat towards the outline of Aegina already visible on the horizon. Aegina, the home of the Temple of Aphaia, and Aghios Nectarios and Pistachio nuts. Well, we’ll visit Aegina later.
Now there is just the image of the tiny white church on the harbour front and the remains of the Temple to Apollo, no time to see any more, for the Greek boats only stay in harbour long enough to set down and pick up passengers and cars in a heady mixture of shouting and engine revs. What seems at first glance to be chaos quickly resolves itself into a highly efficient operation and we are soon on our way to Methana.
It is not unusual to find entertainers or raffle ticket sellers on a Greek ferryboat, together of course, with the ubiquitous seller of lottery tickets and instant success. So sit back now and enjoy the music or the patter of the raffle ticket seller – the Greeks will. And before long, the faint smell of sulphur tells you that you are nearing the spa town of Methana with its healing waters and its’ (hopefully) dead volcano.
And the excitement is really mounting now, next stop Poros, and you will be back, back on the little island whose images have haunted you the whole time you’ve been away. The Poriotes say that once you have been here you will always come back and here you are! First the headland light, the ever- present goats grazing peacefully at its foot.
Then the tension mounts unbearably for the boat starts to turn and for a split second there is the thought that the island will not be there, waiting, as you have imagined a thousand times. Perhaps after all it was just a dream. But no, slowly but surely the pyramid of the old town builds before your eyes and the blue dome of the clock tower stands out against the back drop of the mountains. Time seems to hang suspended for a moment and then picks up speed. Russian Bay, Love Bay, Neorion, all flash by until the loud speaker warns you that you must be ready to disembark.
You plunge into the shadowy depths of the hold, claim your luggage and stand with the other returning pilgrims as the door drops down revealing a close up of the harbour front before it crashes down into the quay and you are there. Kalos oriste. Welcome to Poros!
What follows is a highly personal, totally biased glimpse of a small Greek island, its people and its way of life – with occasional forays into the highways and byways of Greece itself.
On Understanding Greece.
I have always said that Greece is like an artichoke – you pull off one leaf and there is another, and so you go on, round and round, until you reach the heart. Or do you?
Well, sitting this morning in one of the harbour cafenion I saw no reason to change my opinion. It was the first warm day of what may well turn out to be the summer, and the first tourists, totally unsurprised by the heat, were striding around, their little white legs and bare arms already showing signs of early sunburn. The islanders of course were still wrapped in their layers of winter clothing or hiding in the shade, already complaining of the sun.
I listened to the intrigues of the market traders chattering on around my ears, providing a fascinating background of sound to the coming and goings of the shoppers and the tourists.
Occasionally a half sentence raised itself above the general cacophony of sound, hinting at darker political intrigues or the rumour of someone’s downfall on the Chrimatisteria ……the Greek stock market.
Given Greece’s history, and especially that of the last 100 years, it is hardly surprising that there is a sub text to many an ordinary conversation, whilst often even the mouths remain shut, a slight movement of the head or an arm can communicate a wealth of information to the perceptive eye.
Look at the recent history of Greece from the time of the Turkish occupation, through the Second World War and the ensuing civil war and you begin to realise how survival itself often rested on these talents. And along side all that went the need to slip into the shadows, under no circumstances could you afford to draw attention to yourself, for to stand out from the crowd could result only too often in torture or death, or both. Even now many of the older generation run from a confrontation and seem threatened by the slightest argument.
Not so the majority, however, to whom argument is the stuff of daily life. I suppose not all arguments are about politics, though it often seems that way, and I certainly think the one I witnessed one particular warm summer afternoon had more to do with politics than anything else, but my Greek was not good enough to be sure.
I think it was around six in the evening and I was up in Poros town, but about to set off for Askeli to shower and change. As I entered the little main square I saw the one bus just leaving and I decided to take the water taxi instead. I leapt into the half full boat that I thought was about to leave. But once seated I became aware that it’s owner was some way down the line of boats and involved in an argument which was becoming noisier by the minute. There were signs of impatience amongst the waiting Greeks and one or two shouted down the line for our owner to hurry up. Reluctantly he left his adversary and moved back towards the boat, only to turn round and continue the argument yet again. There were more complaints from our boat and it’s owner returned, but just as he bent to start the engine, some insult from the harbour front sent him running back. One by one the Greeks started to leave quickly now until only I and a couple of tourists remained, loyally sitting there. Eventually I too gave up the ghost and set off to walk.

Later that evening, showered and changed I returned to Poros Town to eat. It must have been around eleven thirty when I re – entered the main square intent on returning to my bed when I heard an all too familiar sound. The same boat from early evening sat, half full of weary tourists whilst it’s owner stalked back and forth; the same adversary shouting back down the line. I shrugged and walked to the waiting bus, there are some arguments you simply cannot win.
Only twice have I ever attempted to enter into a political discussion here and I have promised myself I will never do it again; not because of fear for my own sanity but because of the quite awful furore it produced between the people around me.
Not for nothing was alcohol banned on the night of the final speeches before an election --- and that was until only a few years ago. Of course like most things in Greece, this never presented a major problem and if you sat in a cafenion, the white wine appeared in the water jugs, the beer in the coffee pots and the whiskey in the tea cups.
I don’t suppose any of the local police were fooled but, provided everyone behaved themselves, they were prepared to turn a blind eye. After all livings had to be earned and on a night, often in winter, when almost all the local people were down in the main square the opportunity to earn a little extra cash was too good to miss.
Election speeches here rouse powerful passions, and a debate that rumbles round the packed tables of the cafenia.
The candidates are mostly listened to with respect, but later the blood rises and to have been sitting at the wrong café table can cause problems and a serious argument. Politics are a part of the lifeblood of island life, together of course with sex, football and the weather.
You can hear the discussions echoing around and around the centre square, though it is often unclear which particular subject is arousing the passions, for the same vocabulary seemingly works for all topics.
It is easy to find yourself sitting amongst a group of Greeks listening to a conversation about the previous evening meal, only to find, when you venture some comment on a particular succulent steak, that the entire dinner table has exploded with laughter. In retrospect it is easy to guess why, but when your Greek is still somewhat hesitant then the potential for deep embarrassment is unlimited.
As you can see, the hazards of social conversation at a Greek dinner table are limitless …… though you may just have pulled off another leaf from that artichoke.










 
Poros.The week of Kreatini. [Meat Week]
The second week of Carnival here in Greece is called Meat week because its’ Sunday is the last day on which meat can be eaten before the Easter Fast. But we decided not to wait for the very last minute and set out to enjoy ourselves on the Saturday. Giogios, our Dance teacher had asked Sue, Andy and I if we wanted to go out after the class with he and his girl friend. Of course we took little persuading and 22.00 hrs. found us climbing the old streets of Poros to what used to be Drougha’s and is now run by Theo but in much the same traditional way. Inside is still the same huge log fire and the food seems still to consist of what was freshest in the market that day. We had Fava and Beetroot salad with a pungent Garlic sauce. Of course there was the ever- present Greek salad, and Gigantes and finally a huge platter of lamb chops cooked on the open fire and suitably singed. It was delicious, the wine too, fresh from the barrel and lightly chilled in the cold night air. It all slipped down easily and, together with the excellent company quickly produced the Kefi that is an essential part of all Greek celebrations. So it wasn’t long before the dancing started and George was shouted to his feet. He danced beautifully and people were still calling ‘Bravo’ when the music for the Hasapiko started and Giorgios pulled Sue and I to our feet. With George’s guiding hand on our shoulders and a few whispered instructions to help we danced well, and people’s faces were a picture as we walked back to our table, I loved it all!
By this time we were chatting to the people at the next table. They were not from Poros but lived in the mountain village of Arachova near Delphi and were here for the weekend only. But it was one of those evenings when people instantly become friends for life and so we all went off to one of the harbour bars to continue the evening there. A bottle of champagne was bought to celebrate the dancing and we were invited to Arachova anytime. Of course we all vowed we would go and Giogios and I said we would dance to seal the promise but the music was never right and the disco took over. Heaven knows what time it was when I finally walked along the icy harbour front, a half moon throwing sharper shadows than the street lamps, but just as I was beginning to think longingly of a warm bed a friend drove past in his car and delivered me safely to my door. It had been another of those memorable Poros evenings and I was only glad that I had been there to enjoy it.
Poros. April. I know it’s the 30th. April today because tomorrow is the 1st. May and I must make my wreath of flowers. I have made the base, rather successfully, though I say it myself, and tomorrow I must go and collect the flowers. We are just about recovered from Easter when, as usual, rather too much food was eaten and far too much wine drunk. This year I was invited up to a friend’s house….well, farm, in a valley right on the top of Kalavria. The views are stunning up there, it’s on the way to the temple, and on a clear day you can see as far as Athens and just about make out the Parthenon. The house is old, quite simple, with odd bits added on from time to time, and it is all smothered in vines and bougainvillea and looks romantic blending in with the background of pine trees and eucalyptus. It was a beautiful day and the food and the wine tasted amazingly good out in the warm sunshine. Greek music came pouring out of the T.V. and in the short breaks for adverts you could hear other music played loudly at various homes across the valley.
It’s difficult to go far without hearing music on this island and after a while it seems to enter into your blood stream and become part of you. When you reach somewhere it hasn’t penetrated the silence is awesome until you become aware of other sounds, the sighing of the wind, the singing of a single bird or someone far away exchanging a piece of gossip with their neighbour. Sounds travel for miles here and often come at you from odd angles.
So lunch was noisy and full of chatter too, until finally this slowed down and the food stopped coming and the wine glasses stood half full and unwanted on the table. Someone was going back down the mountain with a car so I said my goodbyes and thank you’s and begged a lift back. The sounds of other people’s Easters drifted across to us and several times we caught a glimpse of people dancing, but the kefi was going out of the day and siestas were beckoning. I slid into one of those deep, dreamless sleeps which are an essential part of Mediterranean life and enable you to bounce up an hour and a half later ready for whatever the world has next on offer. Today was no exception and mid evening found me down in Poros town sitting in a cafenion in the main square watching several friends less restored than I, endeavouring to start on the night’s celebrations.




















Poros. Summer.
It was Magda’s idea to go to Sirocco for the Bouzouki. We had been out to dinner and were sitting having a late night drink when a friend of hers passed by and told her it was the last night of the summer up there. So we finished our drinks and set off along the harbour front, round the headland and finally up the steep, white steps into the open-air nightclub.
A hundred memories of other summer evenings briefly flooded my mind but then the music reached down to take us high into the night sky and hint at the evening ahead. It was only 1.00am and early by bouzouki standards but there was already enough atmosphere to hold us and make us glad we had come. I think, between us, we knew everyone there.
The kefi was good, but only just beginning to move up to that level which is necessary for a really great evening, so we settled at the bar with a drink and sat exchanging greetings with new arrivals and generally doing our best to help the atmosphere along. It really wasn’t long before one of the girls got up to dance the Sheftalia. She was from one of the villages high up the mountain and was with an older man who obviously adored her. She danced beautifully, every movement controlled by the music and she was loudly applauded when she sat down, her companion escorting her to her seat watching, warily, for covetous glances from the younger men in the room. After that the pace of the evening quickened. Some of our best dances were there that night and the energy seemed to spin from one to another. Tassos, Yiannis, Takis, Vangelis, and finally Theo, who almost ran into the other dancers as the kefi soared. Theo is a self-taught musician who writes his own songs and almost lives for music. He danced divinely, taking over the room, applauded and encouraged by the other dancers. We sat on our bar stools forgetting the discomfort of the metal fames and as Theo flew we flew too. Then I became aware of Magda pulling at my arm. “Anna” She said. “Come, its time to go.” I looked across the rapidly emptying bar and then peered at my watch. It was 5.30am and already the glow of dawn was creeping across the night sky over Askeli bay. Someone, if not us, had danced all night!
Poros. 28th Oct.
It was Oxi Day today……the day the Greeks said ‘No’ to the Italians and sided with the Allies in W.W.2. At the first Italian invasion a relatively small group of Greeks, badly armed, single-handedly forced the Italians back over the Albanian border, only to face another, more determined invasion in the depths of a terrible winter. Many died fighting bravely, until they were slowly left with no choice but to flee to the mountains and continue fighting as Partisans. Today is to honour these men and all the others who have died fighting for Greece, and in a way it is like the British Remembrance Day, though there are no red poppies. There are ceremonies all over Greece, some more like a Military Parade, others, as here on Poros, simpler but equally moving. I always try very hard to attend for it is a big day here in Greece, but, more importantly, the men who died, died for my future too, and that of my family and friends. So this morning the bare feet of summer were forced into shoes and the T-shirt and jeans replaced with something more respectable and I joined family groups and excited children, all heading for our main square and the War Memorial there. This year I sat with Andreas and Maria in one of the Harbour cafes surrounded by friends and familiar faces. Then, as the ceremony started I remembered another year. It had been hot then, too, and I stood with Takis and Georgia, watching Leda as she marched past carrying the Greek flag. It was a solemn and moving moment but, as we kept the two- minute silence, the mid morning ferry boat pulled into the harbour immediately behind the line of Dignitaries and I knew it was going to hoot. With something approaching horror, I felt the laughter rise up inside me until my stomach was in knots and my suitably respectable face in danger of splitting into a wide grin. Then I looked up onto the prow of the ship, and there, standing so proudly to attention was a little old man, a small Greek flag in his hand. The laughter turned to tears and they streamed down my face. As so often in this country, tragedy and comedy walked side by side.










 


TRIPS ON THE ANNA II

 


I don’t remember exactly how I came to be working on the Anna II but I do know that it didn’t take long for me to thoroughly enjoy myself and feel that I was very much a part of the family who owned and ran her.
From the very first few trips we got on so well, which was nothing short of a miracle really for I spoke no Greek and they spoke no English. I did eventually teach Eleni to say ‘mineral water’ and ‘vegetarian’ and the Captain finally came up with quite a number of nautical terms. But I think what really bonded us together was the fact that we were all blessed with a highly developed sense of the ridiculous and if in doubt we simply fell about laughing. – And there were quite a few opportunities for that. Inevitably, working on the boat, we quickly created little rituals and one of mine was sampling a roast potato when they were brought up from the ovens prior to serving. This particular day in Spetses was no exception but rather than getting my hand slapped as usual I found three pairs of eyes anxiously watching my reaction.
“Are they good Anna?” asked Eleni, somewhat over casually. I took a careful bite.
“They’ve got sugar in them” I said.
“Sssh!” came the reply “What can we do? Mitsos put sugar in them instead of salt and we have only just found out.”
I started laughing.
“O.K.” I said, “we don’t say anything, they won’t hurt anyone, so we’ll just wait and see what happens.”
We served lunch and then I walked around the boat to see if the passengers were happy. We always got one or two requests for Eleni’s potato recipe but this day we were overwhelmed. Everyone loved them and thought they were the most amazing tasting potatoes ever. I just smiled and agreed that Eleni was a very, very good cook.
As you have most probably realised by now Eleni is not exactly a stereotype of the typical Greek wife. She is full of fun and between us, as the Captain often complains with a twinkle in his eye, we succeed in making his life very difficult, especially in mid summer when we are all very tired and irritable. We, however, think that he is a very lucky man.
The first time that we made the trip to the Corinth Canal from Aegina we were all a bit nervous and very much on our best behaviour. We left Poros at 6.30 in the morning and arrived exactly on time to pick up the passengers at Aghia Marina. From there we proceeded in stately fashion to the Isthmus and then through the canal. We went on to dock in Loutraki and then at the given hour we sailed back effortlessly through the canal to the Isthmus again. From the Isthmus we went to Angistri, from Angistri to Aghia Marina and from Aghia we set off back to Poros, everything had been perfect.
As we sailed back into the harbour at Poros, I woke up the sleeping Eleni and said, delighted to be back,
“Look, look. Poros”

“Poros?” questioned Eleni, “Oh praise the Lord, he’s found it at last!” Surprisingly perhaps, it is rare for any of our passengers to get drunk on the boat though they obviously enjoy a few beers or some wine during the day, but on this particular occasion there were three Scandinavian men who started drinking before the boat left the harbour and went hard at it all the way down to Spetses. They were absolutely no problem and apart from a tendency to lurch as they walked around and a penchant for falling on the other passengers from time to time, they were perfectly well behaved.
I happened to be sitting by the bar when one of them arrived, propped himself up and ordered a coffee and a sandwich. I smiled in encouragement thinking that it was a sensible move – and then watched in amazement as he took the coffee and sandwich, lurched heavily and sent them spiralling down the hatch into the kitchen. I grabbed him just in time to prevent him following and then heard a horrendous series of crashes followed by total silence. After what seemed an eternity Eleni appeared half way up the stairs covered in coffee, an empty cup in one hand and a broken saucer in the other.
“Oops.” She said. “What’s happening?”
The tourist fled, in his inebriated state he must have thought her to be some sort of spiritual manifestation come to haunt him, for he was remarkably quiet for the rest of the day and never came near the bar again.
As far as I can gather by far the biggest problem the Tourists encounter on their fearless sallies abroad is the troublesome question of the toilets. Basically in Greece there are few, if any, public conveniences of the type known and loved by the Northern European tourists. If any do exist they tend to be of the ‘hole in the ground’ variety and seemingly un-negotiable by our foreign visitors. I must confess myself to be perplexed by this attitude. But over the years I have been forced into admitting that it is a genuine concern.
We do have lavatories aboard the Anna II. In fact we have two, one either side of the entrance to the bar. For quite a long time there was nothing to indicate which, if either, was the ladies or the gents. I thought this was a sensible factor for the toilets were identical and as far as I was aware the foreign visitors did not have signs on the relevant doors in their own homes. Anyhow, weren’t the Scandinavians supposed to be pretty open about sex etc? Well, sex maybe, but seemingly not toilets. So eventually two little signs were bought and screwed on and all was well.
The next season, on the first trip, I checked our signs were still in place, found they were and congratulated myself on the start of the new season and what looked like a highly organised boat. Alas, the gods must have been listening for we were hardly out of the harbour when a lady came to me with tears in her eyes.



























“There are no locks on the toilet doors” she said.
My heart sank for I knew the Captain and his family had been working on the Anna all winter. As far as he was concerned the boat was finished. Getting locks on the lavatory doors was not going to be easy and I wasn’t even sure my Greek was up to it. I assured the lady that the matter would be dealt with as soon as possible (liar!) and spent the rest of the voyage with my fingers crossed. All went well till we got to Hydra, but there disaster struck.
Hydra has a very small harbour and these days we are only allowed in it for two or three minutes in order to let off the passengers. That particular day we were being severely pressed by the Port Police to get out of the way for a large ferryboat was heading rapidly towards us, bent on coming into the same mooring. I always warn the passengers that they must be ready to disembark and I thought that they were all off. Tassos ran round checking the boat and, as a last resort, banged open the toilet doors only to find a very large lady sitting there, her knickers around her ankles. To say that he was deeply shocked would be an understatement and the next day the locks were on the lavatory doors. It’s an ill wind, so to speak.
One of the nice things about the Anna II is the chance it gives us to meet so many different people. Of course, we don’t like everybody and there are some days we heave a sigh of relief as the last tourist walks down the ramp and off into Poros. But mostly we all get on fine. A vast number of people really do come back to Poros year after year and most make it onto the Anna II. Indeed, we have had people come back especially for one of the trips and that gives us a great boost.
But I think our biggest fan is Howard. He loves the Anna above all else and his dream is to buy her (and us!) and take her back to Liverpool and put her on the Mersey. He hasn’t managed to do it yet but he hasn’t given up hope. Howard is confined to a wheelchair but he and his mum come every year with a selection of friends and relatives to help with the complications of getting here. He says the Anna gives him the freedom to do things he never thought would be possible and watching him at the back of the boat while the dolphins play or the seagulls sweep past the stern is to see someone pretty close to paradise.
He is also extremely fond of Eleni’s cake, though he’s not the only one. On the days she bakes it (specially if she knows Howard’s in town) it always disappears very quickly and I have to move very fast if I fancy a piece myself. Time after time it arrives on the Anna a veritable perfection of a cake, filling the air with the smells of home cooking. But this particular morning something was wrong. We don’t talk much on the Anna for the first hour or so but Eleni’s eyes were doing a very good job of warning of some disaster or other though not, I felt, life threatening, for there was a hint of laughter there too.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Eleni’s cake is not good” she replied, “Eleni’s cake is flat.”
She was not wrong. In looks it resembled more a slab of shortbread than a cake.
“What shall we do Anna, we can’t sell it.” I thought long and hard and then broke off a piece and ate it thoughtfully. It tasted great.
“This,” I said, “is obviously an island speciality cooked to an ancient recipe passed on from Eleni’s grandmother. Of course we can sell it.”
So we did.
And now it’s time to pick up the microphone and say “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Captain Kiriakos and the crew, I’d like to welcome you aboard the Anna. Sit back and relax. It’s time for a little history. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt!”
The section that follows consists of some of the talks I gave on the Anna II as we were sailing around the Saronic Gulf. They stand out a little strangely from the rest of the book but are included because so many of our passengers have asked for them to be made available. In fact it was on the insistence of these same passengers that I started to write the book at all, and then found myself staring in amazement as, like Topsy, it just ‘growed and growed’!

 

POROS AROUND

 


The Anna II is not the only Poros boat to offer trips around the island, indeed the other two, the Two Brothers and the Giorgia Star are perhaps more suited to this trip, for they are traditional wooden boats and rather more romantic. But we use our trip as a chance to slow down the new arrivals, put them onto Greek time and also give them a taste of the local history and a feel for the island which is to be their home for the next few days. We usually go on a Monday all freshly stocked up with Eleni’s hamburgers and oven roast potatoes. It’s an easy, laid back, five hour, trip but the people love it and we’ve even had couples come back to Poros just to sail round the island on the Anna. We seem to go round in an anti clockwise direction though it hasn’t always been so and might well not be again!
Anyhow, as we sail slowly alongside the harbour front towards the old abattoir it gives me a chance to tell people that the ancient name of Poros was Eirene, or Peace, and this was the name which survived until 8th or 9th Century B.C.. Later the island adopted the name of Poros or Passage, possibly after the water strait between the island and the mainland. This water strait was so shallow until the last century that it was possible to walk across it from Galatas. In the early part of the 20thC however, it was dug out to accommodate the big boats and so nowadays we must use the little water taxis if we want to go to the mainland.
Poros is in fact two islands, the smaller one that has in it the present day harbour and old town is known as Spheria and thought to be named after King Shaeras. The second and larger island is called Kalavria, which translates as “Fair Breeze”, or maybe the name is linked to the pastoral god Kalavrian Apollo who carried a shepherd’s crook and was known to have been worshipped on the island. But whatever the source of it’s names there is no doubt that Poros, together with the City State of Troezan (more later) was an important site in Ancient Greece and the area has continued to pop up throughout history right up to the present day.
As we turn the corner (if one can do that on a boat) we see the trees of the Lemonadassos spread thickly across the lower reaches of the mountains of the mainland. This is the biggest lemon growing area in Greece and until quite recently was an essential part of the local economy. With the advent of tourism it’s importance has declined and instead it has become a delightful excursion you can make for yourselves.
Take a taxi boat across to Plaka or Aliki beach or stroll out along the coast road from Galatas. Eventually the road winds inland and begins to go uphill. Carry on walking until you come to a small church on the right hand side of the road and there you will find a donkey track disappearing into the lemon groves. It may well have a sign post saying ‘Taverna’ but even if this has blown down or is not in evidence you should follow the donkey track up the mountainside and then, just as you are beginning to get really thirsty and wish you had stayed on the beach, you will find yourself on the threshold of the taverna.
“Ah,” you think, “water.”



















But no, you want lemonade, for here they make their own lemonade from the local lemons and it is delicious. Before the electricity came they used to cool it under the waterfall but nowadays it is kept in the fridge. The waterfall is still there though and also some mysterious caves where the partisans may well have taken refuge from the occupying Germans. Ask anyone in the taverna and they will show you to where they are. When you have eaten and drunk to your satisfaction come back down the mountain and collapse into the welcoming sea until it is time to take the little boat back to Poros together with some delightful memories of views across the Saronic Gulf and the friendly family who run the taverna.
But the Anna has sailed on by now, passing the little island of Bourtzi with the remains of a 19thC Venetian fort. There is something vaguely sinister about this island and hardly anyone goes there. It is rumoured to be full of snakes but there are other rumours too for Greece has a turbulent history and Poros is no exception.
Appearing on the left hand side of the boat we can see Askeli Bay, now in summer bustling with tourists, its sea front tavernas just opening for the first of the mid day customers. Only a few years ago this was a tiny fishing village with shepherds and their flocks roaming the mountainsides. I was told that during the Second World War a group of five women ran the only Allies radio station in the area. I met one of them in Spetses, another was Metaxas’ daughter who lived on Poros until her death quite recently. There are ghosts there too, a band of Troubadours who tread the coast road, playing their music and singing, and up the river bed road and way into the pine trees there is said to be yet another ghost, someone who was murdered and walks unhappily, seeking the peace he cannot find.
But the sun is shining too brightly for ghosts so from the Anna let us follow the coast road up to the Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi. This is a lovely walk and one you should do by road, walking in the footsteps of George Seferis the Greek poet and Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1963, and a frequent visitor to the island. Before his death in Athens in 1971 he claimed that the walk to the Monastery was his favourite on the island and was one he never grew tired of making.
The original Monastery was founded by the Metropolitan of Athens in the mid 17th C, after he was cured of gallstones by drinking water from the sacred spring still to be found by the little church of Aghia Anagiri just outside the Monastery grounds. It is also claimed that a silver icon of the Virgin Mary was found here and provided the exact location for the larger church. Inside this church is a fine wooden screen, said to have been carved in Cappadocia in Asia Minor and some fine icons of the Virgin and Child thought to have been painted by the Italian artist Raphael Ceccioli in 1853. Rumour has it that the bones of the ancient orator Demosthenes (more of him later) were moved here from the Temple of Poseidon at the top of the island, though they are now lost without trace.
As you stand outside in the little courtyard, look up into the giant Cypress for it is also said that during the Second World War some intrepid Greek resistance fighters hid in its branches whilst the Germans searched fruitlessly below. As they searched they probably trod on the tombstone of one Bradnell J. Bruce, a foot soldier who accompanied His Majesty’s Ambassador to Poros, and then after travelling all this way, had the misfortune to die of a local fever on 8th October 1828. I often pop to say hello just so that he doesn’t feel too forgotten.
As you leave the Monastery and look across the sea and down to the beach tavernas it is easy to imagine the boat from Piraeus that used to dock here daily, bringing people and goods from Athens on a voyage made pleasant by the live orchestra on board which played classical music.
Ahead now is little Modi or Lion Island. From here it looks like a lion couchant – hence, its name. It is said to be the site of a powerful Mycenaean naval Station but it is so small it is difficult to imagine how this could be true. Nowadays, like Bourtzi, it is said to be over-run by snakes.
The Anna turns another corner now and there is Aegina silhouetted against the lighter shapes of the mainland. We are sailing at the back of Kalavria past a series of rocky inlets covered in the rough scrub that loves to attack bare legs. The mountain above us is Profitis Ilias and is the site of the ancient city of Poros. This area was first inhabited in 10th Century B.C.
The ancient city was actually built on the slopes of Mount Profitis Ilias and extended down to the bay of Vaygonia. The Temple of Poseidon was its crowning glory and stood on the mountain-top above the ancient harbour. This Doric temple was built around 520 B.C. originally with 12 columns. A limestone stoa was added in 420 B.C. however, and this was followed by others in 370, 350 and 320. It was well known throughout ancient Greece and has popped in and out of history for many centuries.
In the mid 7th Century B.C. the Council of Kalavria was formed. Also known as the Amphictyon of Kalavria, its seat was in the 8th century temple. It was a naval, religious and political federation that sought to control a large area of the Saronic Gulf. Amongst its members were Athens, Aegina, Epidavros, Ermione and Naplion. It reached its zenith around 459 B.C. but continued on until 3rd Century B.C.
At the beginning of the 5th Century B.C. the Persian invasion began with the citizens of Troezan sending five ships to the battle of Artemesian. This city state of Troezan (again, more later) was situated on the mainland opposite Poros and is known to have given shelter to the women and children of Athens during the Persian wars. Then in 431 B.C. the Peloponnesian wars began between Athens and Sparta. Now the Troezinians sided with Sparta against Athens and took part in the attacks on that city. These wars lasted until 404 B.C. and were to virtually destroy the magnificence that was at the heart of that great city of Ancient Greece.
By this time the Temple of Poseidon had become something of a sanctuary, and was well known throughout the area. In 322 B.C. Demosthenes, the great orator, sought refuge here after he had been implicated in a bribery scandal in Athens, though there now seems to be some doubt over his guilt. The situation at the time was so serious that, when they came to arrest him he committed suicide by swallowing poison concealed in his pen, first leaving the Temple in order to avoid desecrating the sanctuary.







































Demosthenes was one of the great orators of Ancient Greece. Born with a terrible stutter, he walked along the seashore as a young man, shouting above the waves with his mouth filled with pebbles. He continued doing this until he overcame his handicap.
Pausanias recalls seeing his tomb in the Temple in 2nd Century A.D. but it is difficult to place now for alas, little remains of this important site today. In 1760 A.D. most of the stones were removed to Hydra on the authority of the Archbishop there and used to build a monastery. It is also rumoured that quite a few of the stones helped to build some of the older houses in Poros Town – a rumour I’m sure is right. There is a statue to Demosthenes standing opposite the petrol station where the three roads meet. Unsurprisingly there is a story about this statue!
After I had visited Poros for the first time I was clearing out a high shelf in my flat in London getting ready for some building work. This shelf mostly held books I had inherited after my grandmother had died and included some rather nice early editions of “Jane Eyre” etc – books my grandmother had declared to be ‘racy’, and thus created in me an early and abiding interest in the classics. Amongst these novels was a largish book entitled “People of Poros”. I nearly fell off the stepladder and was soon sitting on the floor engrossed in this find of which I had no previous recollection.
It was indeed about Poros, the Poros immediately before the start of World War II. An American had visited there for the second time and this was an account of his visit. He left as war was declared and must have missed meeting Henry Miller by months. How my grandmother came to have it, I don’t know, for she never went further than Sheffield and never talked to me of Greece.
Anyhow, in the pages of the book is an account of an evening in a little town taverna on Poros when some of the young bloods of the town came in carrying the bust of Demosthenes. They had been celebrating rather too well and, finding him on his pedestal looking cold and wet they had decided to bring him to the taverna for some good company. However, once inside the taverna, they had grown impatient and hit him with a glass to make him drink. They knocked off part of his nose, and if you look at the statue today you will see that he is still missing that bit of his nose – and not a lot of people know that!
This whole area ceased to be inhabited in 395 AD when the Goths invaded and sacked it. Anything that was left standing was destroyed by an earthquake that is also thought to be responsible for the ancient harbour and town being engulfed by the sea. It is sometimes still possible to see part of the buildings and the harbour wall along the sea bottom.
Leaving Ancient Greece behind for a bit, the Anna comes in to Beesti Bay with its’ fish farm. This is one of the new rural industries that have been introduced into Greece since its entry into the EEC. The fish are exported mainly to Italy though some find their way onto the Anna if Mitsos and his brother Jiannis are in the mood to go snorkelling with the gun. And for our guests too, it’s now time to plunge into the beautiful clear water and drum up an appetite for lunch.
Lazing back on the Anna after two and a half hours of swimming, eating and relaxing on deck, and now half asleep, we set off on our round tour once again. As we emerge from Beesti Bay and look down towards Aegina we see a tiny flat island and a group of rocks sticking jaggedly out of the sea and providing a permanent nuisance for boats of all sizes, especially on moonless nights. Tall stories are connected with these lumps of rock. The flat little island is always referred to on the Anna as “Kiriakos’ island” I’m not sure if it even has another name but one day several years ago we arrived at Beesti Bay to find the water full of rubbish and looking extremely unappetising. We tried several other small bays but always with the same result. So, in desperation we set off to this small lump of rock that, although covered with sea birds, somehow caught the imagination of our passengers. They insisted on staying and proceeded to have a great time there. Later I was asked the name of the little island and, never one to disappoint I informed them that it was called Kiriakos’ Island after our Captain who had been the first man to step on it in recent times. This delighted both the passengers and the crew – who consist entirely of Captain Kiriakos’ family! A few days later I came across one of the families who had been on the boat that day and they expressed their disappointment on having purchased a map of the Saronic Gulf and failed to find any trace of Kiriakos’ Island. They cheered up considerably when I explained that the island was too small to be shown on ordinary maps and they would have to purchase one of the special sea charts on their return to England. This they swore to do, so it is perhaps just as well that this particular family does not appear to have become one of our annual visitors! Though they would still find Kiriakos’ Island as popular as ever and now referred to as such throughout Poros!
The other, more vertical group of rocks have collected a romantic story of a local sea nymph and the moon. The local fishermen say this sea nymph lived around here many years ago and was an excellent swimmer. She was probably the best swimmer of any sea nymph known to man but, alas, she knew it too and took to boasting about it. The moon overheard her and took her to task, but she would not stop and finally, believing herself unbeatable, she challenged the moon to a race around the world. The moon told her not to be silly. He explained that he travelled through air and was much faster but she refused to listen and went on and on. In an attempt to stop her, the moon finally agreed but insisted that if she lost she would be turned to stone for a thousand years. He expected that to settle the matter but she still refused to back down and eventually the race took place. She swam and swam, going faster than she had ever done before, but it was all to no avail and she lost and was turned into stone, and there she sits, a hazard to everyone and hated by most sailors. But the local fishermen feel sorry for her for they say that on a moonless winter night they can hear her sobbing and pleading to be a sea nymph again.
I used to tell this story when we had a lot of children aboard the Anna but now I am a little more careful for one little boy became so worried about the sea nymph that he spent his entire holiday trying to think of a way to help her, searching the sea in the hope that the thousand years were up and she was back as a nymph.
By the time the story of the sea nymph has been told we have reached a point where Methana has come into view. This little town is situated on a rocky peninsular off the mainland and is best known in Greece for its once live volcano and the thermal springs which this volcano brought to the area. The volcano is long dead though it is possible to walk to the edge of the crater through a village surrounded by the lava dust. The thermal springs, however, are still very much in evidence and are said to be beneficial for both arthritis and rheumatism. The baths that house the springs are to the right of the harbour and people come from all over Greece to take the waters. On a day when the wind is blowing from the North West the smell of sulphur covers the area.













































But Methana has a history too. Remains found on Mount Helena tell us that the peninsula was inhabited from the earliest times. During the Peloponnesian War the Athenian General, General Nikias occupied Methana and established a garrison on the isthmus. After his defeat in 421 B.C. Methana was linked with Sparta. Then in 273 AD, according to the French geologist Fougue (1867), the Methana volcano erupted for the last time and changed the shape of the gulf.
Pausanias describes the eruption quite vividly and also tells us for the first time of the hot springs which began to flow. Strabo, in his account, adds that, after the eruption, the area was unapproachable for days due to the great heat and the smell of the sulphur. It was then that the island of Spheria appeared and, together with the already existing Kalavria, formed Poros. It is also thought that Methana was used by Patrochus, a Commander of the Egyptian fleet. He renamed it Arsinoe and made it into an important commercial port. It stayed under the rule of the Ptolemy’s for a hundred years and when they left they handed it on to the Romans, at which point the seas became thick with Sicilian pirates.
But I think Methana has not given up all its secrets yet, for only a few years ago a local priest started to dig the foundations of a new church and he came across an ancient grave with some fine artefacts in it. Now the archaeologists are taking a new interest in the area and this is good news for Methana and bad news for the priest for he will have to wait a number of years before he can go on with the building of his church.
It is early days yet but there seems to be emerging some links with the Minoan period and this is causing small shock waves to pass through learned circles for the Minoans were not thought to have travelled this far.
Back in the main part of the mainland and just hoving into view is the modern village of Trizinia, or Damala as it was once called. It sprawls itself up the mountainside nowadays but still evident just outside the village centre are the remains of the city state of Troezan. And it is impossible to tell the history of Poros without continually referring to this City State and its history.
In ancient times the citizens of Poros were almost always part of the State of Troezan, though in many aspects of everyday life they retained some independence. This great City State was originally inhabited around 3,000 B.C.
According to tradition the first king was named Orus, a name believed to be Egyptian in origin. After Orus came King Althippus who was thought to be the son of the god Poseidon and Orus’ daughter Liees.
I always think claiming parentage from a god is so sensible. After all, if I were forced with the task of telling my father that, although unmarried, I was pregnant, and had the choice of naming a local farmer or a god, then I would certainly go for the god. It would make my life a lot less unpleasant I’m sure. And this seemed to happen quite a lot in ancient times with Poseidon being very popular in the surrogate father stakes. Poseidon was certainly often around these parts for he and Athina had been quarrelling a lot about the land in this area and Zeus had had to intervene and order them to share it. So Poseidon had his temple on Kalavria and Athina had hers under what is now St George’s church in the old town of Poros. This point is confirmed by coins which have been found here dating from 3rd – 5th Century B.C. and bearing the head of Athina on one side and that of Poseidon on the other. Anyhow, walk up to the temple at the top of Kalavria one day and then tell me that Poseidon isn’t still around. I always take him flowers or a gift of some kind and on the whole we’re good friends – I’m convinced he has a great sense of humour, very strange things sometimes happen while I am up there. But no more, I must keep my counsel.
So, after Althippus came King Saron, who drowned in the sea whilst out hunting and gave his name to the Saronic Gulf – a most unfortunate way to achieve immortality I always feel, but anyhow, that’s how he did it.
History seems to have drawn one of its net curtains over the next bit, at any rate until the Achanaians invaded the area led by King Pelops and his two sons Trizin and Pitheus. They eventually ruled here and the area became known as – yes – the Peloponnese. And this brings us to the birth of Theseus who was to grow up to be the second most famous Greek hero after Hercules.
Theseus’ story is a long and fascinating one – some say there were even three Theseuses – and you must turn to more learned pages than these for a detailed account of his life, but briefly the story goes as follows.
Aegeus, King of Athens had no heir from two wives and, desperate for a son, he left Athens to visit the oracle at Delphi. On his way back to Athens he called in at Corinth and bumped into Medea just prior to her expulsion from that city. She made Aegeus swear a solemn oath that he would shelter her from all her enemies if she ever sought refuge in Athens and, in return she undertook to procure him a son by magic. Somewhat heartened by her promise, for he had only received an un-interpretable message from the oracle at Delphi (all about not untying the mouth of his bulging wineskin until he reached the highest point of Athens lest he die one day of grief) he then embarked on another detour to Troezan. Here he met up with Trizin and Pitheus who made him very welcome and ordered a great feast in his honour. Pitheus was renowned as one of the learned men of his age and he was said to be pretty big on friendship being often quoted as saying
“Blast not the hope that friendship hath conceived; but fill its measure high.” He founded the oldest known shrine in Greece at Troezan, dedicated an altar to the triple goddess Themis and taught the art of oratory in the Muse’s sanctuary there. Three white marble thrones, now placed above his tomb, used to serve him and two others as judgement seats.
At the time of Aegeus’ arrival his daughter Aethra was rather down in the dumps. Her fiancé Bellerophon had been sent away in disgrace and she was left languishing as a virgin with, seemingly little hope of attaining the marital bed.
The welcoming party for Aegeus obviously turned into quite a rave and during the evening her father got drunk and started to come under the influence of Medea’s spell. Moved with pity for the loveless state of his daughter he more or less threw her into bed with King Aegeus and left them to enjoy themselves, which they apparently did. Later that same night the goddess Athene started meddling on behalf of Poseidon and she sent instructions to Aethra in a dream, telling her to wade across to the island of Spheria and meet up with him there.
Being a good girl – well, in one sense anyhow, Aethra complied and Poseidon found her and had his wicked way too – you must have begun to realise by now that Poseidon is a great one for the ladies and pops up in the role of suitor/rapist time and time again.
It will come as no great surprise to many female readers to learn that next morning King Aegeus remembered urgent business in Athens and began preparations for his departure. But he was not a total cad for, on waking up in Aethra’s bed he told her that if a son were born to them he must not be left on the mountain to die or sent away but should be secretly reared in Troezan.
Poseidon was obviously consulted at some point for he is reported to have agreed that any child born to Aethra in the next four months (? don’t ask!) should be known to have Aegeus as its father.
Before King Aegeus sailed back to Athens he hid his sword and sandals under a hollow rock telling Aethra that when the boy had grown sufficiently strong to move the rock he was to take them and travel to Athens where Aegeus would recognise him as his son. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The stone is still there today and going to find it on the local bus and then shank’s pony makes for a very pleasant day out indeed.

















































There are many stories about Theseus and it is well worth reading them up in greater detail but one of the other fascinating myths is that of Phaedra and Hippolytus, for this too largely took place in Troezan.
Aethra of course gave birth to Theseus who eventually did go to Athens and was recognised by his father. Later he married Phaedra and they had two sons, Acamas and Demophoön. But Theseus also had an illegitimate son with Antiope. This son was called Hippolytus and had been sent to Troezan to live with King Pitheus who adopted him as heir to the throne of that City State, thus conveniently leaving the throne of Athens for his two more legitimate relatives.
All should have been well, but of course it wasn’t. Phaedra was the sister of King Dencalion from Crete and when she married Theseus and came to Athens she brought with her the cult worship of Aphrodite. Before that, however, Antiope had encouraged the worship of Artemis and Hippolytus and had built a new temple to this goddess at Troezan. Aphrodite took great umbrage to this and to punish him she made Phaedra fall in love with Hippolytus when he attended the Eleusinian Mysteries while Theseus was away in Thessaly. This love quickly turned into an obsession and Phaedra, taking advantage of her husband’s absence, followed her passion back to Troezan. There she built the Temple of Peeping Aphrodite, situating it so that it looked into the gymnasium where each day a naked Hippolytus would keep himself fit by running, leaping and wrestling. It is said that Phaedra would jab the leaves of a nearby myrtle tree in frustration whilst she watched unobserved. Later she followed her love to the All Athenian Festival and spied on him again. She told no one of her passion but she ate little and slowly wasted away, so much so that her old nurse guessed what was wrong and urged her to write to Hippolytus before she grew too sick to do anything. This Phaedra did, proclaiming her love, her conversion to the cult of Artemis, and further urging Hippolytus to revenge the murder of his mother by paying homage to Aphrodite and going to live with Phaedra. Hippolytus, being one of the few Greek princes with honour was horrified by the letter and went to Phaedra’s chamber to remonstrate with her but she tore her clothes and rushed through the palace shouting for help and claiming that she had been ravished. Before anyone could stop her she had hung herself from a convenient lintel and left a note condemning Hippolytus.
When Theseus was given the note he ordered Hippolytus out of Athens never to return and then he remembered that Poseidon had given him three wishes so he wished for the death of Hippolytus – a death that he wanted to take place that very day. One must be very careful about wishes that have been granted by the gods for they tend to have a rather fast and literal result.
Hippolytus left Athens at full speed. His chariot and four horses raced towards the Isthmus. Here he was engulfed by an enormous wave and from its crest there sprang a great dog seal (or it may have been a white bull) which caused the four horses to swerve towards the cliff. Hippolytus managed to prevent them all from going over the cliff and raced on pursued by the monster. The horses were terrified and swerving wildly, and they headed unseeingly towards a wild olive tree. The reins caught in one of the branches and the chariot turned over and was shattered on the rocks. Hippolytus was helpless, caught in the reins as he was thrown against the tree, then onto the rocks and finally dragged to his death by his horses. By this time the monster had vanished.
Legend has it that Theseus travelled to Troezan at the speed of light and arrived in time to be reconciled with his dying son. Whether or not this is true is open to considerable dispute but it is said that the tombs of Phaedra and Hippolytus lie side by side in the Temple at Troezan near the myrtle tree with the pricked leaves. It is a beautiful spot to visit in the spring, the whole area rich with wild flowers and rare orchids peeping from behind the palace stones. But the atmosphere is heavy and however bright the sun a long shadow seems to fall across the whole area, as though there has been one tragedy too many within its rich and honoured walls. Unlike the temple of Poseidon on Poros there is no sense of life or laughter and it is with a feeling of relief and a small shudder that you climb out of the valley and head towards the Devil’s Gorge. Here you find dramatic scenery, rushing water and a bridge held up by three perfectly normal devils!
Leaping forward to the Byzantine era, Emperor Leon VI renamed Troezan and called it Damalas and then after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 the Greeks ceded three castles of the Agolid to the Venetians. The castle of Damalas was one of these and it remained in Venetian hands until 1531.
While we have been treading through ancient history the Anna has been sailing slowly on, leaving Trizinia to disappear behind the boat and Poros and its little blue domed clock tower to appear ahead of us. We are nearly home but first we must pass by Russian Bay with its little island of Daskalio. First the bay, and its crumbling building that always produces a string of questions.

 

“Why Russian Bay?” Well, Greece has a tradition of trading with Russia that goes back to the reign of Catherine the Great and is still continuing to this day. The first president of Greece, appointed after the successful revolution against the Turks, was one Capodistrius. He was serving as Foreign Minister in the court of the Tsars when he was summoned back to Greece in 1827. He came back to tales of heroism and great sea battles, for during the Turkish occupation (approx 1470 – 1821) Poros had, like Hydra, amassed a good sized commercial fleet and this was well equipped to play a substantial role in this war of independence. Poros’ ships were moored in the natural harbour on this side of the island and you are now sailing over the site of some pretty ferocious sea battles and the graveyard of many fine ships.
After Independence had been declared Capodistrias stayed on Poros from April until June 1827, and in September 1828 the Ambassadors of the three Great Powers, France, England and Germany met on Poros before conferring with Capodistrias on settling the boundaries for the New Greek State.
Later, as part of a thank you to Russia for allowing him to return to Greece, and also for the more practical help they gave Greece in the fight against the Turks, Capodistrias built the trading station. It was destroyed once during the continuing fighting but almost immediately rebuilt. It ceased trading when the communists took control of Russia. At that time there were two Russian ships in the harbour here both with sympathetic leanings towards communism. When they heard of the successful overthrow of the Tsar they made preparations for a fast return to Russia and as they left the Greeks say they fired their guns in celebration and knocked down half the trading base, leaving it in much the same condition that we find it in today.
The little island of Daskalio has on it a tiny church dedicated to all school teachers for it is said that there lived on Poros a lady teacher who fell greatly in love with one of her male colleagues. Alas, he did not return her affections and one day in despair she rowed out to the island and then walked into the sea and drowned herself. Her parents built the little church on the island and dedicated it to her and her fellow teachers. This small island was also used during the Turkish occupation as a secret school. Here the local children were smuggled across and taught their language traditions and history, often at the risk of imprisonment or worse.
Next comes Love Bay – a name that needs little explanation, for it is a bay that holds memories of many secret rendezvous from both the past and, I’m told, the present!
The Anna is going faster now, anxious to be home, the bay of Neorion lies sleepy on our left for it is mesi-mera – siesta time and all sensible people are asleep building up energy for the long evening ahead.
Neorian is a pretty little bay and one of my favourite places on the island. I wave hopefully to friends in the seafront tavernas and think of Yiannis Ritsos the poet, who comes often to Poros and likes it here very much too.
Ahead of us stands the Naval Station, originally a royal palace and once the main base of Greece’s professional navy. Now it is used mainly to train its national service boys before they are returned to their families a little fitter and more independent than when they arrived.
Before the Anna settles gently into her moorings there is one treat left in store and that is the house of Galini. It is the Italian style red brick house standing on the Neorian road and I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. It was built by an Athenian family with strong interest in the arts and was once well known for the fame of its visitors. Alas the guest book has disappeared but certainly Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller and Georges Seferis stayed here before the 2nd World War. But there must have been many more names in that book for Poros has many exotic visitors and quite recently has played host to Prince Charles, ex President Bush and Edward Kennedy whilst, closer to home, the list is endless.
The Anna is resting at her moorings now and its time to head for home. The little harbour front is almost deserted but I glimpse a movement out of the corner of my eye. Something moved towards the edge of the old town. I look again but nothing stirs. Was it perhaps Athena seeking the remains of her ancient temple?
Maybe, because one thing is certain, anything is possible on Poros. We are in Greece and everything is OK!

E X C E R P T S
F R O M . “ C O M I N G . S L O W L Y ”

B y . A n n e . I b b o t s o n

Copyright Anne Ibbotson 2003 all rights reserved

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