A tonic from the Dodecanese just for our confinement blues
“If you hear traffic or air traffic now, erase it. Turn off any television or radio, any device that buzzes or beeps. Replace them with a rhythmic sea strike on pebbles, or by the cry of a goat or the hoot of an owl “, writes Jennifer Barclay at the beginning of her book” Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese ”.
It is good preparation for the journey you are about to take with her.
In these difficult times when the slow exit from lockdown seems like weeks long to come, Ms Barclay’s third book on her life on the Dodecanese Islands is a gentle tonic and a reminder of places of beauty and calm we cannot still visit.
Ms. Barclay, a well-traveled writer and editor, has lived on the island of Tilos in the Dodecanese for the past decade. So she knows a thing or two about the diverse history and culture of the islands that were the last to reach modern Greece. State when they were ceded to Italy in 1947. She spent four years exploring the islands mainly in the company of her faithful dog, Lisa, talking to locals and learning about places she visited.
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As close as the islands are to the Turkish mainland, they have been subjected to the currents of history more than most places in the world. At the start of the 19th century, the islands enjoyed economic importance through trade and sponge diving, but things changed with the introduction of new technologies, as well as the political and natural upheavals that contributed to a diaspora that has spread to major cities in Greece for work or Australia, America and elsewhere in the world.
The islands of the group which numbered several thousand inhabitants are now reduced to a few hundred. Dwellings and buildings from different eras have been abandoned and nature has come to recover them. But she notes that the diasporas still maintain their ties – like the “Kazzies” of Kastellorizo who have returned from Australia regularly return “to claim their homes and rebuild.”
She notes at the end of the book that “Those who left also kept the spirit of the Dodecanese alive… through dance, language and food, generations after they left.”
During the course of the book, she meets many diasporas who have returned to the islands of the outside world to reclaim their ancestors and their history and make a living on the islands. There are many examples of diaspora benefactors who continue to support their islands from a distance.
What emerges from the book is the diversity of the peoples and landscapes of the islands.
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My favorite chapter is that of her extended stay in Karpathos – an island that gives her an escape from a “hell project” – she is an editor. She visits the mountain village of Olympos and stays in a hotel run by Minas who makes her discover the luxury of her room: showing the view.
She notes that most of the women of Olympos still wear the traditional village dress, the “kavai” every day – a black dress worn over a white dress with an embroidered apron and “stivania”, leather boots and a black scarf. which makes perfect sense. when the winds start to blow.
The men retain traditional know-how, in particular the making of musical instruments to sing the songs of the “mantinades”.
In all the islands, she notes the past work to live off the island’s resources, buildings of the past often had cisterns to collect rainwater to be used during the dry summer months. The skills that have helped people make the most of their surroundings are slowly fading away as those who have remained old and cannot pass the skills on to their children far from it. But the beauty of the islands and the life they offer attract expats like her and not just the descendants of the islanders to make their contributions.
Despite all the beauty and diversity, it is sad that she often notices the amount of plastic garbage that seems to accumulate on the pristine beaches of passing ships.
The book offers a view of a beautiful world that is a wonderful tonic for containment and frustrated travel dreams.
“Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese” by Jennifer Barclay is published by Bradt Travel Guides Ltd.