Saturday 4 May 2013

Easter on Hydra

The view from my hotel in Hydra, a Greek island where I am spending the Orthodox Easter.

I was so lucky to get a boat ticket from Athens when they had all sold out (it was Good Friday, after all). The island is a kind of Greek Sark, where motor vehicles are banned. Thankfully there are almost no beaches either, so no children. Actually, I like children, but it is parents who are hard to take.  

And actually, there is a small beach, but it is a forty minute walk away from the town of Hydra.  

No families come to Hydra, but middle aged foreign couples do come, sometimes in pairs of couples and some, I regret to say, are British. Not my ambiance. Two German couples in the taverna last night said hello to me as if I were one of their generation and it  shook me. One had a Franz Josef moustache. My parents' generation was the class I put them in, but they might have been only a year or two older than me. Might who knows even be my age. 

This hotel looks like something from the Sunday Times, again not me, and is a climb of over 350 steps from the quay. Leonard Cohen, whose poetry books in the shops I never opened was also a  musician it seems. He lived here, as did Henry Miller and Patrick Leigh Fermor. I do not recommend the hotel, the Nefeli - although it is very pretty and the owner and manager are  amiable. There far, far too many steps from the quay to here and far too many nice British middle middle class or upper lower middle class couples.

A Romanian friend of mine damningly called some people I introduced her to 'ordinary people' and I realised this is a judgment easier to make about ones own race than foreigners. There is absolutely nothing at all wrong with ordinary people, who are essential to the economy of the universe, but they make me scared that ordinariness may be infectious, which of course it is. I went to school with a lot of ordinary people. Some of the ones who were not ordinary, such as the brilliant psychotic who burgled a chemist's, made a cocktail of the drugs and thereby died, were  out of the ordinary in a way I do not find particularly interesting.

The Orthodox Easter is always spell-binding: the funeral processions of the Lord on Good Friday evening and midnight Mass the next evening. Here it is poetic beyond description. On Good Friday evening the hearses, symbolising the corpse of Our Lord, are emptied into the sea to sanctify it. On Easter Saturday late a boat arrives with a flame from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. From this flame are lit the candles of all the faithful at midnight. At midnight the cannons explode and fireworks go off. The devout continue with Mass but most of the town goes off to feast and celebrate the end of the arduous, vegan, orthodox Lent, with lamb soup. roast lamb, lamb organs. The feasting, as far as I could see, goes on in restaurants, not at home. Which pleases me - much jollier than the celebrations at home of the reserved, low-key, private English.

Most of the town goes to Mass, the girls in their finest dresses and I revise my opinion of Greek young womanhood. Many are good-looking, some beautiful. Christianity here is  social not an individual thing and it would be sad if relativism, globalisation, loss of belief and immigration change that.

Of course, Hydra was once as, as recently as the 1960s, not part of the tourist industry and now it is. I wonder what I am doing here, but I do like it here.  Except for the foreigners. People speaking Romanian cheer me up - British voices the reverse.

Vlichos, the second hamlet as you go left, forty minutes' walk along a path along the coast from the port  is like Hydra was in the 1970s, I suppose, although it has two restaurants and a beach with deckchairs. Wonderful Easter dinner, meaning lunch, traditional music, lots of offal, almost no damn foreigners. Blue, glittering, transparent sea. 


  1. A fascinating description that tends to reveal as much about its author as about its subject!!

  2. Just FYI, Hydra in the 60s and 70s was absolutely wild! Non stop partying... Just saying...