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  • Shelley Dark

#9 Clean Monday

The temperature today has been 4º-9ºC. Sounds cold doesn't it? It's actually been fairly pleasant with not much wind.

My 2am snack last night - how healthy is that??? Might make up for the florentines I've been buying at the Tsangaris almond shop. Of course I didn't eat any breakfast!


I just came home from a long walk up in the oldest part of town, on top of the hill at Kiafa.

The first people to settle here on this rocky inhospitable island in modern times were Albanians in about 1470. They were fleeing persecution from the Turks. They didn't build on the harbour - they preferred to be up on the hillside where they could see pirates coming. And it was closer to good pastures. The houses were also joined by covered passageways for better defence.

Because the streets running down to the sea ran torrents in heavy rain, the walkways were built high on the side of the ravines, the walls of the houses had to be thicker at the base to resist being undermined, and the house entrances faced away from the water flow.

Only later in history did people start building houses closer to the harbour, and around the time of the Greek war of Independence, the wealthy shipowners and builders started to build mansions closer to the ocean on the steep hills east and west of the harbour.

As always I'm drawn to the doorways.

Some of them pale, others quite vibrant!

I've noticed but not really realised what the black fruit is on the stone stairs of the town. This morning I realised they're fallen olives from back yard trees. This is such a beautiful old olive tree - you can see by the trunk it's been trimmed many many times. If only it could speak.

The houses range from large, smart, refurbished white washed villas with glossy painted doors and smart new hardware, to original modest houses with paint peeling and wood rotting. Up in this part of town there are ruins as well. It's the consistency of architectural style that gives the town its feeling of harmony and inevitability, despite the huge range in degrees of affluence.

There are pockets of fertile land up here. Can you see the terracing?

Prickly pear grow well and the fruit is nearly ripe.

There aren't many big trees. This pine must have found a hospitable place to grow.

There seems to be a church at every turn. Most boarded up.

This one looked really old.

It's also where the modern church of Saint Constantine is located. On the very plot of land where his family originally lived. Have you heard that story? It's so sad!

He was born on Hydra 1770 in the time of the Ottoman rule. His parents Michael and Marina Dimama lived right on top of the Kiafa hill, and brought him up very strictly in the Orthodox Christian faith.

Because of the lack of work for young men on Hydra, against the wishes of his mother at 18 he went to Rhodes, another Greek Island, where he worked for the Turkish governor, looking after his horse Estafeet. For three years he lived a fortunate life, and was favoured, honoured and well-liked.

At a party one night, everyone including Constantine was very drunk and the governor asked him if he would like to be a Turkish governor or hassan. In his inebriated state he agreed, and was circumcised as a sign of his conversion to Islam, and had the white turban of a hassan put on him.

The following morning when he woke he was mortified at what had happened. Not knowing what else to do, he continued in his work. His Christian friends on Rhodes ostracised him.The news reached his mother, who threw away money he sent home, locked herself in the house and cried inconsolably.

He returned home to see her, but neighbours spat on him as a Turkish sympathiser and his mother refused to see him. 'I have no son called Hassan,' she said.

After much soul searching and religious counselling from Patriarch Gregory V and orthodox ministers, he spent time in a monastery before returning to Rhodes.

'Hassan Bey I am your servant Constantine from Hydra who you fraudulently made a Muslim. I return you your false religion and tell you that I am a Christian and a Christian I will die.' He threw the white turban to the floor. The governor was so angry that he threw Constantine in jail and had him very savagely tortured for five months.

At the end of that time, he brought Constantine before him again. Constantine again confirmed his Christianity and was hung from a plane tree on 14th November 1800, aged 30. Oh dear. They were tough times.

This is the clock tower next to Constantine's church. Isn't it surprising that the architecture in Hydra is totally severe except for the marble clock towers? Maybe they were built by travelling craftsmen who had only one pattern!

The door was locked, so I held my phone up against the window. I think the iconography on the walls tells the story of his martyrdom. Wish I could have gone inside!

At one stage while I was taking a photo, I felt someone looking at me. Isn't that an awful feeling? I looked up....

Hunger drove me back down to the harbour. I climbed the steep wooden stairs again to Psarapoula. Ilias was out on the balcony. He looked puzzled. 'Are you open?' I asked. 'It's only 11.30am!' he said. I laughed and went back down the stairs. I must be on Hydra time that I don't even look at my watch!

I ran into Eileen - she was coming out of her apartment above her ice-cream shop. 'They're not open,' I said. 'My stomach told me it was lunch time!' 'Come with me,' she said, 'You need a snack to keep you going. I'll give you a piece of cake. My sister made it.' She refused to take money.

On my way past Spiro's jewellery store, he came out to ask what I was doing. He's given up on selling me anything. 'Going back to my apartment till lunch time,' I said. 'You know it's seafood today don't you?' he asked, 'You should go to Kontilenia at Kamini. It's a tavern owned by my friend Dimitris. It's a wonderful tavern. It's perfect! You must go there! Tell him Spiro sent you.'


How could I resist? The weather was less than ideal for kite-flying at Vlichos this afternoon.

I wrote for a couple of hours on the computer, then I walked the kilometre along the coast, looking forward to lunch. This is the view from the terrace of the taverna. Water taxis were whizzing in and out.

I introduced myself to Dimitri. He was underwhelmed. I was pointed at the display cabinet. 'That's the menu. You choose,' I was told.

The fish with tomato and capers looked perfect for Clean Monday. And it came with chips! The wine was in an anodised cup from the restaurant's barrel for me to pour into my wine glass. I chose a seat on the edge of the terrace so that I could watch the boats. There were heaters but they weren't on. As I ate, the cold began to seep into my bones. The fish was delicious, the acid of the capers balancing the oil perfectly. Plus a little Greek side salad of tomato, green capsicum, onion, bitter olives, cucumber and the most delicious herbed feta on top.

On the website it had said Dimitri will phone a taxi for you. When I'd finished, I asked Dimitri if he would please ring Sea Bird. Sea Bird didn't answer his phone. Then we noticed a water taxi at the small dock, about to back out. Dimitri gave a huge wolf whistle to ask him to wait, and I scooted down the stone steps, across the red sand beach, up on to the dock.

Rain was just starting to fall. The trip home took less than five minutes.

Hydra is deserted again. Everyone has gone back to the mainland, and the drizzle is falling. On the walk home from the taxi rank, I saw Sassa who said she has a headache from last night, but what fun it was. Eileen waved from inside her shop, and then I popped in to see Vaso, who said she'g going to Tsarapoula for dinner with a friend.

Warmth hit me as I opened the door to the apartment. How cosy it is. So nice to be sitting at the computer typing as the drizzle falls. I certainly don't need any dinner.

I'll leave you with the words of the Greek writer Odysseas Elytis who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1979:

If you deconstruct Greece,

you will in the end see an olive tree,

a grapevine, and a boat remain.

I haven't seen any grape vines yet. Plenty of the other two. Until tomorrow buddies, I wait you,

shelley dark, writer 

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