The people of Skyros

2 Feb 2011

Skyros, Greece

The island of Skyros has about 3000 people on its roughly 200 km2. Most of them live in the capital, the closest thing to a town around here, which Amanda refers to as ‘the village’. The women of this island are few or well-hidden (or possibly both), I have met only two during my 1,5 weeks here, and one of them being my host Amanda, doesn’t count. And I occasionally catch a glimpse on the old lady of the neighbouring house, always wearing her long black robe. She sometimes takes a walk along the road, maybe to pay a visit to someone, and sometimes works on the field. I wonder what she cultivates there. But she doesn’t seem to have any interest in meeting me and I’ve never spoken to her, so I haven’t really met her.

I have caught the attention of quite a few men though. The arrival of a young blond woman to the island did not go unnoticed. As they sometimes visit the farm, I have been introduced to some of the local men and they always seem to remember me well, while I’m having trouble putting together all those names and faces. I know there’s Takos the shepherd who has enough sheep to hire other men to work in his farm (the name Takos, by the way, is short for Dimitris, go figure). The other frequent visitors are guy nr 2, who helps Stathis with bringing and chopping firewood, guy nr 3, who has goats and collects for them the branches of olive trees that Stathis cuts to keep the orchard sunny, and guy nr 4, who owns one of the horses residing at the farm.

One evening when we had just finished the evening feeding round, Amanda came up to me and told me we were expected to a gathering at Takos’ place and the people of the village would very much like to meet me. ‘These are real Skyrian people,’ Amanda said as we got into the car. ‘As authentic as it gets.’ This wasn’t very informative as I hadn’t developed a stereotype image of a Skyrian, so I was very curious about meeting them.

That is how I found myself in the company of a dozen Greek men of all ages, relaxing after a long day of hard work. Half of them were workers at Takos’ farm and the other half knew Takos always hosts the best events, so they had dropped by to visit. Most were shepherds, some working on the ferry operating between Skyros and mainland. Several of them had poor or no education – but as all Greek men, their each movement was so full of dignity and pride, there was no doubt they had insight to the way the world goes around.

Naturally, there was home-made wine on the table, between the plates of bread, vegetable snacks and Takos’ own cheese (feta and two other kinds). The men made sure no wine cup was ever less than half full and I had heard it was inpolite to refuse when being offered, so I never stopped them from filling my cup, but just stopped drinking when I felt I’d had enough, leaving my full cup standing on the table. The room itself was small and packed with furniture. It wasn’t the living quarters, it was an outfarm. Each farmer has one so they have everything necessary at hand when they are visiting their animals, and in case of need, can spend the night there. The walls and the mantlepiece was covered with old photos bleeched by the summer sun. I noticed a trumpet hanging from the ceiling. I never found out if any of the men could play it, but one of them had in fact brought a little drum which was hardly ever put down to rest.

The big black cassett player in the corner was on most of the time and during changing the cassetts, the men wouldn’t let the music go out and carry on singing. The cassetts as well as the men played traditional Greek music, those slow melancholic songs that had a sound so ancient and oriental, it was easy to forget this was 21st century Europe. They would occasionally spice it up with a more energetic rythm and as the hours were getting closer to midnight, they cleared half of the room for dancing. And those shepherds were fine dancers indeed – joyful and proud, they followed the music effortlessly, with their feet, moving lightly as the breeze, keeping up with the rythm which to me seemed uneven and inpredictible, and the upper body following the melody. I had no illusions of being capable of their kind of dancing but as they insisted on me joining in and Amanda assured me by saying any movement will be accepted, as long as it captures the feeling, I hesitantly got up and followed their lead on the tiny dance floor. I surely did not nail it but I did my best and received a choir of cheers, and if nothing less, it motivated me to learn the Greek dancing properly.

All this was accompanied by a constant loud chit chat over daily matters to which I unfortunately couldn’t contribute as my Greek was as basic as their English. The atmosphere was cheerful, there was laughter and fooling around, the men would occasionally give each other kisses on the cheeks, and I suspect there was some showing off, as me and Amanda were the only women in the company. But they would always retain their distinct sense of honour – a trait that throughout the millennia has not been abandoned neither by the modern Greeks of Athens, the mother of all cities, nor by the shepherds here, on the remote island of Skyros.

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Published in: on 4. veebr. 2011 at 19:26  Lisa kommentaar  

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