submitted by James Victor Prineas on 06.06.2011
Dear Friends of Kythera,
the increasingly ageing population of Kythera is ever more apparent when a friend or relative there dies of old age. One of my favourite Aunts, Koula Prineas (Loudsis) of Mitata, died recently. Although in reality only distantly related to me, Theia Koula was emotionally my closest relative on the island. During my first few extended visits to Kythera in the 1980s, she and her husband Niko, not having any children of their own, invited me to share their lives which included traveling down to their market gardens in the "Moudaro" valley east of Mitata, where they taught me all about the agricultural traditions and practices passed on over the generations. Water which had collected in a small reservoir up the hill was channeled down through the garden twice a week in summer, flooding the garden systematically using a hoe and a bit of skill. Gushing fresh water rushed over dry dark earth leaving a smell both dusty and wet at the same time. Trees were pruned, wood was collected and chopped for winter, food for the donkey and chickens was gathered. I experienced something which my Kytherian ancestors had been practicing over the centuries. And Koula, with her bright blue eyes and endless generosity, told me stories of my family and of the village between loading me up with bags of fruit and vegetables to keep me fed. I was a strict vegetarian back then, I wandered the village bare-footed, which she one remarked was astonishing to the villagers since, as children, they had all dreamed of regularly eating meat and having shoes on their feet. Together we collected and stamped grapes, baked paximathia, cooked up a storm and sat around chatting in the evenings with the other inhabitants from that part of village. After she had spent years nursing first her mother, then her sister-in-law, and finally her husband on their death-beds, she was alone at the end in Mitata, with no family around her as she grew frail. At least in summer she had lots of doting visitors and relatives from Australia, but the winters were hard and lonely. George Sklavos (Abramis) was a true friend to her, visiting her almost every day, which made me feel less guilty that I couldn't be there for her myself. She gave me a second childhood on Kythera, and was the closest thing I had to a mother on the island.
A picture of Koula from 2004 with my youngest son. Further down in this newsletter you can read a short story I wrote about her for my book "A Village on Kythera" from the 1990s.
Dealing with bureaucracy in most if not all countries is seldom without exasperation. As mentioned in previous newsletter, my family and I have been waiting for a building permit for our land on Kythera since May 2009. We've managed two of (at least) three hurdles so far: (1) the forestry department took 16 months to determine that our land wasn't woodland. In order to work more "efficiently" they didn't consider our land alone, but rather grouped it together with neighbouring blocks and fields. The problem with that system is that when one of our neighbours disputed the department's findings, the whole area considered, including ours, was blocked for another 4 months while they looked into the appeal. But in April, after 20 months, we finally received the approval. (2) Next was the archaeology department. Kythera is an island with a rich and long history, so naturally one's land has to be checked to make sure it doesn't have any temples, ancient olympic stadiums or pyramids on it. Apparently the archaeologists take a quick look at the position of the block on a map to make sure it isn't in a known historical area, then view an aerial picture of the land and spend a minute looking for signs of buried Minoan sanctuaries. Actually I've heard that the archaeology department can be quite fast and isn't as useless as the rest of the apparatus. In any case: total time wasted looking for forests and temples: 22 months. Were both departments run less bureaucratically, the process would take about a day. (3) Now the application is with the actual planning department. They only consider the applications from Kythera once a week, so if they want a change or clarification, they won't see your answer/changes until the next time they meet a week later. It's a bit like playing chess with someone who can only make one move a week. Our engineer estimates that we should have the approval by 2016 at the latest, all going well. But seriously, it could be approved within three months, but he doesn't want to get our hopes up.
Not being able to remain idle for more than a few minutes, I've set up a new sustainable tourism project called "Kythera Natura". Like the hiking project, it will attempt to attract "low-impact" nature-loving tourists to the island using social media, PR and printed brochures. Kythera can profit greatly from pre- and post-season tourism. May, June, September and October are stunning months on the island as many of you know, but the hotels and restaurants are empty and they shouldn't be. People who don't need 40 degree heat and packed beaches to feel like they're having a holiday are an interesting target group for the island: they appreciate the landscape, often buy local products, and usually don't rubbish the beaches with their cigarette butts etc.. If you'd like to help with this project, which includes writing pieces on magic places on the island, collecting pictures of flora and fauna, and generally contributing to the www.kythera-natura.com website, please let me know.
We at Kythera-family.net also have another Kythera project to announce in the July newsletter, which I will more than likely write from the island next month. The project is big and beautiful and will be worth waiting for, even though the bureaucracy involved to make it happen would choke a provincial Indian-government elephant-toenail customs-official.
I hope to see at least some of you on Kythera in July or August. For those of you who have time but haven't booked their tickets yet, I just took a quick look and you can get to Athens in July and August for the following prices:
Sydney - Athens: about A$2500 (www.flightcentre.com.au)
New York (or San Francisco) – Athens: about US$1550 (www.kayak.com)
Even less if you go in the beautiful Kytherian autumn.
Best regards from a boiling Berlin,
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URGENT: Beaches of Kythera at immediate risk!
by John Stathatos
In a sudden and totally unexpected development, the Mayor and municipality of Kythera have tabled a proposal for the municipal meeting of Monday April 11th by which they propose to auction off the great majority of accessible beaches on the island to individuals wishing to install refreshment stands, recliners and parasols. The full list of fifteen beaches includes a number of remote and hitherto unspoiled locations such as Fournoi and Kombonada. If carried out, this will be an act of criminal folly, destructive both of the environment and of the increasingly fragile tourist economy – it’s unlikely many tourists come to Kythera to enjoy the amenities of a second-rate Mykonos, with it beaches transformed to 24-hour disco sessions.
Nor will this action help the municipal finance, since the income derived will be close to insignificant. The truth is that this is a purely political manoeuvre, by which the ruling party hopes to expand its patronage, since every licensee will in future be beholden to them.
These are the beaches which the municipality proposes to make available to “development”:
Neos Kosmos (Agia Pelagia)
An online petition is being organised and details will be posted very shortly. In the meantime, it is absolutely essential that as many people as possible email or fax the mayor, Theodore Koukoulis, expressing revulsion at this proposal and protesting in the strongest possible terms, stressing above all the economic damage that will result from it.
To contact the municipality:
Tel.: +30 27360.31213
fax: +30 27360.31919
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The Leivathiti Café in Potamos
An email from Polixronis Leivathiti
I rang my 96 year old friend in Potamos for a rundown on the history of the Leivathiti (now called Astikon) kafenio. Spiro Andronicos can be seen there every day, sipping his cup of coffee. This photo (below) is from the 1980s. My grand-father (Polichronis) kicked it off in 1908. When they where old enough my dad, Venetsianos, and his three brothers Harry, Nicholas, and Kosma, took over the running of it. The kafenio was (and still is) the biggest on the island with a very rich history. Singers have performed, weddings etc. have taken place on those premises. After the war my dad, who was a barber, came to Australia to find work in order to send money back to keep the place running, He did so, but ended up staying here in Australia (as did everyone else with the same idea). After my uncles retired the place was rented to various tenants which kept up the usual traditions. Today it is leased to Dimitri Condoleon and his sister Maria. The name has changed to "Astikon" but the service still remains. I am happy to say that the property still remains in our (my sisters and my) family.
Thank you James for the chance of writing in your newsletter, hope to meet for coffee there one day soon.
picture by Stephen Trifyllis
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MY KYTHERIAN JOURNEY CONTINUES
Maria Marcellos Whyte
As I begin to write, once again in the quiet of the evening, I am amazed at the overwhelming support I received when I finally broke my silence, and spoke of the secrets hidden behind closed doors of my life, a Kytherian girl, living in Australia, as I expected that I may be criticised for speaking openly, but for too long I spoke of a life I wished for, not the life I truly lived.
My deepest and sincerest heartfelt thanks go to the wonderful people who chose to contact me, supporting my decision to speak out, supporting me and encouraging me to continue with the story of my true life. One special lady who I hold in the utmost esteem, who took it upon herself to send me a photo of my parents resting place, caused me to be concerned that she would not understand, and that the deep affection I have always felt for her and her husband would be tested. She is still the beautiful woman I knew when I was young, and still to this day, I treasure her friendship.
I chose to write one article of my true life, feeling I should not continue, but the outpouring of request for me to continue, caused me to realise that my own story has allowed many fellow Kytherians to find the freedom to openly speak of their own life experiences, also breaking their silence, and I choose to do so now, with the understanding that I write my own story, but still have the utmost respect for my now deceased parents.
My medical conditions have also brought many questions for me to answer, as I feel that now many may be looking deeper into illnesses which may not have been recognised, and I will freely discuss my own with anyone who may seek information for their own purposes. If just one person is given the gift of understanding and receiving treatment, then I have done what I will have accomplished something purposeful.
My 2nd cousin, 1st cousin to both my mother and father, Donna, was the first patient to be diagnosed in Australia with lupus. She complained bitterly when she gained weight with the steroid treatment. She was so tiny, not even 5 ft tall. She passed away, never having married, leaving behind the first known case of a condition which so many are still unaware of. Donnas brother Nick brother also passed from this inherited condition.
I myself was diagnosed with scleroderma and lupus, and was treated by the most respected professor of Immunology at St. Vincents hospital, Professor Ron Penny, who also headed the research department for Scleroderma. In the end, as there was only a paltry $100 set aside for research, he chose to leave his position and take his hard work and research into other fields of auto immune conditions. My own scleroderma, which is in its last stage now, is not my only condition. RSD is an extremely painful condition which I also have, GORD, Peripheral Polyneuropathy, Raynards, etc. which as the weather becomes cooler, I see my hands and feet turn blue. I require constant treatment, not only with an auto immune specialist, but a Rheumatologist and neurologist. These are all inherited conditions. I say that I do not do things in half measures, but I did not expect to have such an abundance of conditions which have changed my life.
From an early age, I did not see affection displayed openly in my family, never being held, nor kissed, except for each day as I would depart for work, when I recovered from my long 8 months in bed, my mother insisting I kiss her three times. She had seen a neighbour do this with her mother, and chose to have me do this also. Two kisses on one cheek, and one on the other. How I craved to be held, to have a kiss on my cheek, and just a hug from my parents, but such displays of affection were not deemed suitable. Never did I witness affection nor cross words between them, but watched their daily routine of taking Greek coffee and paximathia or kouloria to the very back of our large garden, to sit together in the sun, speaking privately between each other, but never sharing with me any of what was discussed.
If I saw my father come away from this time spent together with my mother, don his waist coat, his sports jacket and jaunty hat, I then knew there had been an argument, and he would leave to make the walk through Centennial Park to visit his sister who had purchased a home not far from us. My aunt was an incredible woman, giving me the affection denied me within my own family home. I remember that she gave me my first writing folder at the tender age of 12 as a Christmas gift, along with a yellow tartan scarf which I have to this very day. She must have known that one day I would begin writing, as it has always meant so much to me. My memories so vivid, that I recall that very day. An icy cold day in Orange, a town in NSW, and a gift on Christmas Day.
My father would return some hours later, and, as usual, there was no sign of anger, as he was a forgiving man, a trait that I hope I inherited from him. The time I spent with my cousins who had joined their mother in Sydney, leaving my uncle to finish up with his business and home in Molong, to enable him to also come to Sydney to live, was precious. My cousin Coula, more a sister than a cousin, passing so tragically too early. I continue still each day to pray for her, taken from us far too soon, as she also suffered from scleroderma, yet always saying hers was a mild case, as she showed such concern for me, telling me she had some lung involvement, which I can relate to as my lungs cause me concern also.
Each day when I wake, before all else, I ask the blessing of our Mertitiotisa, not just for myself, but for all in need. Coula was such an exceptional person, learning that she had entered hospital for routine tests, yet her unselfish nature was still her main priority as she attempted to find a specialist for me in Brisbane, still putting others first, looking out for me and touching the hearts of all who knew her. The call came that she had passed so unexpectedly, causing me to grieve so deeply the loss of someone so special in my life. I lit a candle in my bedroom. I kept the flame alight for 30 days. Her phone number is still in my phone, with red roses next to it, yet this phone number no longer exists in reality. Still, I cannot find it within myself to remove it. My cousin John, the youngest son, also passed, and the grief I felt was again beyond words. The memories of our childhood always stayed with me. Happy memories are made, never to be erased, keeping our loved ones in our hearts forever.
(continued in the next newsletter)
Maria Marcellos Whyte
4 Trinity Crescent
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Now available at Amazon and other bookstores (online and offline):
Winnie Under the Sea
Valerie Thomas & Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
Note the metaphorical reference to Aphrodite? Can you recognise the beach? It's the second Paliopoli beach, otherwise known as "Aphrodite's Beach" or "Juiliette's Beach" (named after the late famous herbalist Juliette De Bairacli Levy who lived nearby). Take special note of the "face" at the point in the centre of the picture (below actual pictures of it). Why does a kytherian beach feature in a children's book about Winni the Witch? Because the award-winning illustrator, Korky Paul, is a great Kythera-lover. His beautiful books are worth collecting in their own right, but as each contains a visual references to our beloved island, they should be an integral part of any Kytherian's library.
Although this version of the picture is too small to see them in, Korky even included the famous heart-shaped stones which are to be found on Aphrodite's beach... - James Prineas
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a short story about the late Koula Prineas
Koula Prineas watched over four pots and pans, their contents simmering away energetically. She counted them worriedly with her bright blue eyes. Beans, greens, artichokes and garlic sauce. In the oven a rabbit browned; on the wood stove in the courtyard her husband Nikos fried dozens of little fish; a huge salad and a platter of cold cooked vegetables already filled the table set for four. She asked me if I thought it would be enough. As long as she wasn't expecting all the monks in Greece I thought it would probably feed us. I asked which of the island's monasteries she had invited.
"Nikos' nephew "little Petros" is coming for lunch," she said. I asked my Aunt to continue with the guest list.
"Just little Petros. He doesn't have a family." She stirred the skorthalia into a thick, almost exclusively garlic paste, which would complement the frying fish.
"All this food for the three of us and Nikos' nephew?"
"Don't forget Sophia," said Koula. Hearing her name mentioned, Koula's bedridden sister-in-law's deafness went into temporary remission and she coughed and called from her wide sofa in front of the television in the living room. Koula's eyes looked up to a seemingly merciless God over the top of her black-rimmed glasses, which were smudged from continuous nervous correction. I went out to the old woman to take her order.
"I don't think that wife of my little brother Nikos has fed me in a week, Dimitri-mou," she whispered loudly to me, nodding her feeble head towards the kitchen. I said that today being a holy day, Auntie Koula was bound to relent and start giving her food again soon. Perhaps tomorrow, or on Tuesday at the latest. She licked her parched lips with her dry tongue and asked me what was cooking.
I listed the menu and her eyes grew wide and puffy, like those of the frying fish in the courtyard.
"All that food? First she starves me, then she tries to stuff me to death!" The old woman crossed herself, then murmured a prayer which effectively hid her drooling. I told her that her nephew was coming to lunch. She nodded slowly, now understanding the extensive menu. "Petros from Potamos – a pig if there ever was one," she said sourly. Apparently she felt Petros' presence jeopardised her chances of being fed at all.
"Is he fat?" I asked.
"Khondros?!" she stammered. "If you set a wick alight on him it would burn for months! At Easter the monasteries hire a tractor to ferry him up the mountains to the service. He almost overturned the ferry to Neapolis last year when he boarded it. Fat? No, Petros isn't fat. He's just a monumental human jellyfish."
When I returned to the kitchen Nikos was holding a platter full of dozens of crisp fried red mullet. He asked me what Sofia was going on about.
"She's afraid that Petros is going to eat all the food, the table, the cat, and then each of us."
"As long as he starts with her I don't care," said Koula, opening her eyes wide to clear the sticky garlic fumes from them. Nikos looked seriously at the crisp silver fish, then pushed half of them onto another plate and hid them in the cupboard.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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