Sunday, 26 August 2012

Island (Νησί)

For those of us who live on one of Greece's many inhabited islands, our view of the world is hindered by a sense of isolation, as an island lifestyle connotes. Wherever we travel on an island, we are not very far from the sea, which can be seen from many vantage points. Our islands are generally rocky and hilly, so we often have a view of the restrictive sea that surrounds us from even the furthest point away from it.

From my house, I can see the island of Souda, which used to be a used as a fortress as it was very close to the harbour - in this photo, it is partly obscured by the Hania-Athens ferryboat.
Our islands provide the impetus to both divide and unite Greece. The sea reminds us of our limitations; it is the symbol of self-sufficiency for island dwellers. It is a warning that we must always remember to provide for ourselves in times of need. In the summer, this is less of a problem: the generally good weather and the importance of the tourist sector mean constant flows of ships and boats, hopping from one island to the next, dropping off people and supplies at each destination. But this situation is overturned during the winter, when it is not possible to rely on sea transportation - and not all our inhabited islands have airports. Half the year is fraught with tension for those who remain on the very small rocky islands: their biggest worry is whether help will reach them when they need it.

The island known simply as the Island in the middle of the Ioannina Lake - a magical subculture of the mainland. 
Treeless uninhabited rocky islets are visible from very close to the shore and it is very often possible to swim out to them from the mainland and the larger islands. What may look like a challenge also acts as a safety net for the inhabitants. It's hard to hide on an island; eventually, you get caught out. The recent cases of crimes committed on Greek islands show us that even when you manage to escape the crime scene, you are not immune to the law. Society is not as close-knit as in the past, but on an island, everyone knows each other in some way, and outsiders stand out, so they're remembered better in the minds of those who dealt with them at any point during their stay on the island.

Anti-Kithira: a rocky island with a handful of inhabitants, two hours from Kissamos harbour in Hania - it relies on supplies from Hania during the summer; the winter is very bleak. The rocky terrain makes farming difficult; there are no trees on the island, which is covered by low scrub.
For this reason, crimes committed on an island no longer remain anonymous. The Greek islands have, just lately, been in the global news for this reason: the affairs of the relatively small island of Paros did not escape media attention. A 21-year-old illegal Pakistani immigrant was accused of rape. He left the island 'in a hurry' and was caught in Athens. Again in Paros, a 30-year-old Greek university student with ties to anarchic groups who was accused of killing a taxi driver during a bank robbery on the island was also caught in Athens. The DNA of both the accused mathes the DNA found at the crime scene. The recent case of white crime in Hydra proved the most provocative in global terms: businesses on Greek islands prove to be the worst cases of tax evasion in Greece. During a jail breakout on Crete a few years ago, the prisoners were caught in next to no time - there were few eixts available to them.

Thodorou Island off the coast of Hania - it's used as a wildlife sanctuary, and approaching it is forbidden, except once a year when on St Theosdores' nameday.
Our islands provide a stimulus for dreamers. Some of those tiny islets stand out like shiny green emeralds (for those with some foliage) or black diamonds (in the case of the βραχονησίδες - dry rocky islets), surrounded by a sparkling sapphire sea. They make you feel like Onassis on Scorpios. No one in Greece is now in a position to own an island, but we can dream of being the king of our very own castle as we spot those gems in the distance during our swim on a hot summer's day.
Kalathas beach in Hania contains one of the prettiest islets close to the shores of the bay - it even has a tree on it, whose significance is of utmost importance - what is the value of an island in the Mediterranean if it doesn't provide any shade?

Crete, the largest island in Greece, and Europe's fifth largest, cannot be compared to the smaller Greek islands which do not have year-round activity. Here, it's easy to forget that you are not connected to Greece's mainland because the island offers nearly every service you can possibly think of needing or wanting. On those other tiny summer-resort islands, now that the end of summer is approaching, the tourists and the regular ship deliveries will be soon be stopping, and the lives of their permanent residents will revert to Persephone's winter schedule: after six months of the good life, they must accept six months with quite a different nature... 

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