Saturday, September 15, 2007

A week on Paxos

Legend has it that around 2,000 years ago an Egyptian sailor, Thamus, when passing the island of Paxos was becalmed. In the ensuing stillness a voice, divine and thunderous, was heard to proclaim 3 times: 'The great god Pan is dead'. This news was greeted with much lamentation and marked the passing of the classical world. The genii of the sacred sites, the nymphs of the wild places, the fauns and satyrs and centaurs,and all wild things fell silent. The Lord of the Wood was dead, and the new king's domain not earth but heaven. Old Pan became Christianity's devil, be-horned half-man, half-goat.
It's a tale which always sends a shiver up my spine - not least because sometimes, in the silence of whichever wilderness, one wonders if these genii are not just waiting in the wings.

Paxos rises out of the blue Ionian, its eastern coastline broken by headlands and bays, while cliffs soar in the west. The island's gentle contours are blanketed with olive trees - a legacy of the occupying Venetians. The olive groves mask an unforgiving rugged and stony terrain which must be back-breakingly coaxed into production. Summer brings heat, drought and tourists. The cold winter months bring the olive harvest and rain to fill the cisterns. And fishing; year in, year out, there is the sea to harvest too.

It's hardly the archetypal playground of the gods but for a 21st century gal it's as fine a place as any to spend a week.

We arrived safely, with luggage intact despite Servisair's very best efforts to separate me from my suitcase. Yes, the case lying forlornly on the tarmac where it had fallen from the laden baggage truck as it hurtled towards the plane was mine. How our bus-load laughed as we came across it as we too hurtled plane-ward. We agreed it was a good job I'd not packed any eggs. Laugh? Liverpudlian humour is quite special isn't it?

Paxos had had rain earlier in the day - the first for many months - after a summer which has experienced heatwave after heatwave. The Paxiots were understandably quite pleased at this much needed contribution to the island's reservoir. We were less enthusiastic but decided it was good to be there anyway and pulled on sweaters. Cats' paws slapped on the dark sea, the sky was hung with cloud and over to the east the mountains of the mainland were in sharp relief. 24 hours later the storm had passed and all was well with our holiday world again.

We sat and basked in the sun. We sat and watched the world go by, met old friends and acknowledged small changes. The island bus took us from Loggos to Gaios and brought us back again. Small zephyrs flicked the pages of our holiday reading. Sigh.

We ate shaded by olive trees - lunch of calamari, whitebait and Greek Salad at Spiros' Kantina on Levrechio beach - surrounded by cats and an assortment of kittens. Erasmus, at 'Taverna o Gios', cooks a robust dinner: a chunk of octopus - to be dressed with a flick of vinegar, seasoning and the fragrant local oil - accompanied by chewy bread, crisp of crust, from the village oven. This might be followed by a slab of grilled meat or fish, or something 'from the oven' - a hearty 'stifado' or 'pie' more suited to a winter's day. Good island cooking this. Elsewhere may be daintier dishes but here is food to fuel body and soul.

In the 20 years we've known it, the island has changed. Of course it has. It is busier now, more prosperous. The donkey's have gone. More cars and scooters and visitors are in evidence. The old brightly painted fishing boats are gradually being replaced. Smart craft anchor in their place in the small harbour at Loggos. Land now changes hands for staggering sums of money and prestigious villas rise amongst the olives. Roads and facilities are better and, one suspects, so is the quality of life for the people of Paxos and who would deny them the right to enjoy the comforts and conveniences we take for granted? God forbid this place should turn into some Grecian themepark.

It is evolving gradually and if not gracefully, then very Greek-ly. The sunsets and sunrises are still, and ever will be, breathtakingly beautiful; the Paxiots and their landscape warm and welcoming. A week was just perfect. We'll be back.


@themill said...

I do love the Greek Islands but haven't visited Paxos. However, on the first really autumnal day we've had, you took me there.

Mopsa said...

Greek calamari - how I yearn!

muddyboots said...

looing @ paxos next year? saw your flight on the dept board on saturday......l forgot my uniform.......

Pondside said...

I want to go! I loved your film strip!