Amorgos is a pretty south Aegean isle in the Cyclades group with much in common with many Greek islands. Once, in the age before regular ferry communication, when inter-island travel was the sole province of the caïque or fishing boat, communities were self-supporting unless emergency struck. Imagine sending Petros in his boat twenty miles to fetch a doctor when you have a sick child.
On Amorgos, like other islands, nearly all signs of that essential self-sufficiency have sadly disappeared. Should there be an afterlife what would our forebears think if they were able to look down upon our modern times where their efforts have fallen into disrepair? To see the desolation would be heart-rending for folk that toiled all day, while the sun shone, building terraces of gardens climbing like broad stairways up once-virgin hillsides, all supported by dry-stone walls. The wall building ability still can be seen but now is generally one of the trades required by developers and speculators building Fernando’s hideaway or gracing an unused field, where once the people reaped what they sowed, with a cluster of twee white and blue-painted holiday villas. Here the hoi-polloi are tempted to spend their hard-earned fortnight’s holiday in a semblance of what life in a Mediterranean island means. It means quickly enjoying the view you have paid for, because if you should be naive enough to believe that change to the islands won’t affect you, think again. When you make your rebooking, next visit there is likely to be another villa a handshake away, ruining that idyllic view.
Our journey to Amorgos was an eight hour rodeo ride through heavy seas and gusting force 8 winds and even if Amorgos had turned out to be some developers’ paradise, I would have been happy to step ashore amidst their vandalism. Luckily, it has escaped the fate of other islands and remains a worthwhile destination for the discerning. However, we must recognise that the more popular a place becomes, the more demand there will be for accommodation and the attention of developers. It is an inevitable consequence of building a community of houses rather than houses for a community that we create 8 month-a-year ghost settlements. When the tourists have left, the community of houses stands as a testimony to a modern life where we spend 50 weeks grafting at a job we dislike, for a boss we dislike even more, for a company whose owners are hidden, doing things we wouldn’t want done to us, so that we may pay our mortgages and bring up our declining numbers of offspring. We are naturally pleased with ourselves that we may take a fortnight out of the nightmare and spend it in the same peace and tranquillity enjoyed by all those lucky Mediterranean people for whom graft must be a thing of the past.
In the time it has taken you to read this, I have ridden around Amorgos and seen the essential sights; I have seen the Chora on the hill with its narrow alleyways like a human ants’ nest. I counted 30-something churches before Saint Tedium suggested there were as many cafes and each would be more likely to deliver salvation in exchange for coins in their offertory box.
Across the island I stood in awe before a while slab of a monastery that had been built into a cliff face. I tried to imagine the devoutness and piety that would send a young man here for a lifetime’s incarceration in the service of his and his families’ god. I struggled to reconcile an afterlife earned in this service of the Lord when your whole life has been spent working for that unseen master. Even if the reward is eternal life, the prospect of an eternity of internship makes me cringe.
Yet fortunately, the island still has its human side, that wonderful filoxenia that awaits discovery. When the air in my scooter’s tyre decided it had had enough of lugging my portly frame around and went off with a bang, I found myself in a modest hamlet where there was no sign of any refreshments. The wind whistled around me, taunting me that the rescue phone number I was dialling from the hire contract could be a hoax. Then with the speed of an overweight polecat, I struck...just the slight opening of a door and a man’s shape appearing and I summoned up my best reserves of Greek to ask if, perchance, this might be the community’s kafenion. Obviously I knew it wasn’t, but ‘me the stranger’ (the filos bit) was showered with hospitality (the xenia component) in the shape of Greek coffee, a glass of heady sweet spirit and lashings of biscuits and cake to prevent my hidden emaciated frame from miraculously appearing in the lady’s most comfortable armchair.
I could easily have dropped off to sleep in the warm glow of all this pampering but my mobile phone was not cooperating and connected me with the rescue party that had found the scooter, entombed it in his Turkish-built Transit van and was searching for yours truly. I had no idea where I was, it seemed as near to heaven as I wanted to be right then, but I passed my phone to my hostess who obviously knew my rescuer and within minutes he, too, was in the house of his cousin’s girlfriend’s mother’s younger sister politely prizing me out of the armchair and into his van. I could feel myself dozing off as we wound around the hillsides and hoped I wouldn’t disgrace myself and fall against Manolis the driver. The scooter in the back had no such qualms; tired of fighting with the restraints of its vertical position, it crashed suddenly on its side. Manolis shrugged as if to say, ‘It’s down there now’. I wonder if he would have been quite so philosophical had I crashed slumbering onto him.
Back on Samphire it was time to enjoy that crashed-out state before visiting one of the quayside restaurants that would charge me more than I wanted to pay for food I didn’t particular want to eat...but what choice is there with a loving belly and three spare tyres to support?