Monday, August 16, 2010


"How were your holidays?"

In Greece, this is the burning question on friends and colleagues' lips upon your return from summer leave. And they always ask with such longing that shortly after arriving at the office earlier today I wondered if the quality of people's lives really did depend on how great a time I had with my family on my recent trip to Zakynthos (Zante).

Being a decent sort of person - as most returning holiday makers are - I decided to omit the lousy bits (eg nautious boat ride, boring spouse who bickered with me when I flirted with the lifeguard on duty by the hotel's pool tsk tsk, drunk Brits not letting us sleep etc).

I kept the myth of "perfect vacations" alive by putting on a blissful smile as I regaled them with travel anecdotes before concluding with an aching sigh and sweeping statement:
"Zakynthos is p-a-r-a-d-i-s-e.
No wonder the Venetians referred to it as fior di levante (flower of the East)! I can understand why Edgar Allan Poe wrote a poem about it. Is it any wonder why so many of our national poets and composers were born on this island?
It is simply beautiful!" 

I didn't need to exaggerate too much, either. Here are some photographs so that you can judge for yourself.

Laganas beach is where we stayed and THIS is the view I encountered every morning. As I said - "p-a-r-a-d-i-s-e"!
On one particular morning my daughters and I followed a just-hatched loggerhead sea turtle (caretta caretta) on its trail to the sea and cleared obstacles in its path. We prayed that this little one would survive to adulthood as only one out of every thousand hatchlings do! "Bon voyage little fella!"
And here is one all grown up as photographed during our boat trip. Caretta in latin means head. (I wonder why they feel that they should state it twice. And for that matter why the double repetition of monachus monachus in reference to the endangered Mediterranean monk seal that also thrives on Zakynthos? If anyone knows, please fill me in.)
Sifting sand through our fingers is not all we did.
What do you think we should do with all these shells we brought back home? What a pity I'm not as creative as Lemonade Makin' Mama...
The notorious shipwreck made this beach famous in the Eighties. It's a real crowd-pleaser, but I wonder how many people would visit this out-of-the-way beach if there were no gimmick.
Caves. This formation is known as "Poseidon's Head" can you spot his face? (Clue: Look for the Grecian nose)
The elephant tree (an olive tree at Exohora) in a village square in the middle of nowhere.
Delicious. If you are a vegetarian, you really do not know what you are missing.
Lavish churches. This one is from inside St. Dennis on the port. (If we sold off some of these I'm sure we'd be able to solve our country's economic problems - but then again, some say we should sell off our islands, too!)
Personally, I prefer the less ostentatious, more humble churches (Church of Zoodohou Pigi).
Zakynthos is a little like an ecclesiastical Disneyland! Here is the Monastery of the Virgin Eleftherotria. Doesn't it make you just want to lock yourself away in a nunnery?
And, when not contemplating the spiritual, a massage by the beach soothes the stiff body...It doesn't get more self-indulgent than this!
Then there were things that I couldn't quite capture with my little camera, such as a torrent of shooting stars coming down so fast that I barely had time to make wishes let alone focus my lens. Or lizards rushing around the garden, disappearing before you could blink. Or the elusive images of our summer dreams.

As you can see, this year I have decided to refrain from debunking the summer holiday myth. After all, we need to believe in the magic of escape as times are tough living in a country on the verge of bankruptcy with the IMF deconstructing the Greek "system" and licking away at workers' hard-earned vested rights.

Next year? Who knows? Will our summer holidays be as carefree or is this the last glimpse of hedonistic life?

There seems to be a growing stinginess in vacations and an increasing tendency to save pennies for rainy days rather than squander them under the sun. Will our children believe that there was a time when life in Greece was one year-long summer holiday? People are already blaming this lifestyle for our current economic woes while pointing to Aesop's fable "The Grasshopper and the Ants"...managing to forget the offshore companies and powerful thieves that ruined what was perhaps the best social security/pension system in the world.

But come what may, I guess we'll always have our holiday memories, a few faded snapshots and of course a tide of inspiration that comes from having sipped some of life's splendour...

by Edgar Allan Poe (1837)

Fair isle, that from the fairest of all flowers,
Thy gentlest of all gentle names dost take!
How many memories of what radiant hours
At sight of thee and thine at once awake!
How many scenes of what departed bliss!
How many thoughts of what entombed hopes!
How many visions of a maiden that is
No more - no more upon thy verdant slopes!
No more! alas, that magical sad sound
Transforming all! Thy charms shall please no more -

Thy memory no more! Accursed ground
Henceforth I hold thy flower - enameled shore,
O hyacinthine island! O purple Zante!
"Isola d'oro! Fior di Levante!"

Ironically enough, just as we left the island on August 15, parts of Zakynthos were licked by flames, burning away our still vivid memories.

All the pictures apart from the last one were taken by me.


lilbuttercup said...

I spotted Poseidon's head! Your photos were amazing - it looks beautiful! And thank you for posting the Poe poem! I adore him!!!

Anonymous said...

why call yourself an australian in athens when clearly you are greek? my opinion is you are copying someone else who has a popular website. so sad.

Robin said...

I am glad that you got a magical vacation with your girls. As you said... it may not come again for a long while given the economic situation. So treasure it while you can. As for the nuisances of a vacation...well, they are going to happen. Of course they are. You don't turn into different people just because you are going on vacation. However, I think that tensions do ease the more relaxed you get. I could be wrong about that. Who knows? In any case, you chose a lovely spot. So glad you're back, though. Missed you here in blogland!

Bringing Pretty Back said...

What great pictures! Please tell me that was you that was the one getting the foot massage! HEAVEN!
I caught the boring husband part!
Thank you so much for your comments on my blog!
Have a pretty day!

Purple Cow said...

Lilbuttercup - anybody's photos from this place would be amazing.

Anonymous - You are right...I am Greek Australian and neither of the two. Surprisingly I am not a national though I've been living here for years. A hybrid that belongs to nothing. WHO am I plagiarising? I thought I was being original.

Robin - I missed you too! It is a nice community here and its great to see you all again.

BPP - Even the lousy bits were not without their humour. All spouses get boring after a while, but you are right that being in a different place and away from pressure changes perspective.

Purple Cow said...

PS Anonymous - I have put Australian in quotation marks just for you ;) As for "copying" - I've been thinking about this... and it has slowly dawned on me that maybe I am...Not a single thought I express is "original"! Not a single thought anyone expresses is "original"... Brilliant minds, authors, philosophers, intellectuals have already expressed EVERYTHING! And truth is, everytime I read something it influences me whether this be a blog or, more especially a book...It slowly encroaches on my mind and influences my thinking.

I do not believe I am copying anyone's blog but re-reading this post did remind me of certain holiday posts I have read from other people's blogs.

And I have decided to write a post on plagiarism and copying inspired merely by your comment here. So I thank you...and yes, I am still interested to find out who you believe in your opinion I am copying because in my opinion it is probably an influence of every blog I've ever read.

Keep commenting. I love being criticised. Makes me a better blogger (and person, too).

The Man Your Husband Is Worried About said...

Every vacation has its lame parts. Your pictures look great (especially the food--what does that say about me that the part of your vacation I most want for myself is your meal?!). Glad you're back blogging now, though.

Purple Cow said...

Man husband is worried about - If I were to say that I thought of you when I posted that one, would you believe me? (I think it is because of your blog turning into a food blog a while back).

George said...

Oh, yes - love the dolphin!

I used to make sand sculptures for my daughter - usually 'giants'.

As regards wanting to be locked up in a nunnery, well...

Purple Cow said...

George, not just any nunnery - but THAT nunnery!

Bringing Pretty Back - Yes, that was my pampered foot. It was my birthday massage!