Santorini: Close to skies and (maybe) to gods


I. Caldera… Dumbfounded and flabbergasted, you stand in awe absorbing with each and every cell of your inner self the stunning megalithic beauty. Carved and moulded by possibly extra terrestrial forces, the hillside elevation, resembling a horseshoe, embraces the basin-shaped volcanic depression called Caldera. This Spanish word, which stands for “cauldron”, adds another pinch of mystic charm to the Island of Santorini, suspected to be the actual burial place of the legendary Atlantis, the land of our glorious ancestors with superhuman abilities matching those of the Marvel comics heroes.

Whether true or not, the sheer mega proportions of Caldera with the mesmerizing rich blue gleam of Aegean waters thrills you with indiscriminate joy. Why indiscriminate? Probably you feel becoming part of the grandiose scenery that must have witnessed the splendour of the days of yore when titans battled with gods, goat Amalthea nurtured with its milk infant Zeus, and Heracles was slaying the many-headed Hydra as part of this 12 glorious exploits.

The technicalities from the guidebook on how the volcano eruption caused the emptying of the magma chamber resonated with my almost forgotten classroom lessons. It made me feel once again small and insignificant. The magnitude of the ancient disaster leaves you bewildered and fascinated at the same time. The disappearance of 84 square kilometres of land can be assessed today when you try to pierce with your eyes the “watery plain” and discover remnants of an old civilization, but fail. It's all gone. Gone with the wind and the tidal wave kick-offed by the explosion under the seabed.


You find consolation in the fact that no human remains were found in the ruins of Akrotiri. It supports the scholar's supposition that the people living here in the 14th century BC were smart enough to have envisaged the looming disaster. They left in good time. But have they found a safe passage and a new home? No clues. The excavation works on the Isle of Crete proved that the wrath of the roaring and raised wave has destroyed the cities of the Minoan epoch, and cut short a unique evolution branch in our history.




But enough of brooding over the romanticized (partly sanitized) antique times. They served their purpose, whatever it could have been. The present standing on the shoulders of the past is no less intriguing, teasing, curious and worth exploring. Small villas in the traditional Cyclades architectural style are still around. Clusters of whitewashed sugar-candy houses with flowered gardens, resembling swallows' nests from afar, rekindle the usual sense of wanderers keen to find shelter, refuge and comfort. Santorini, in spite of its wildly rocky environment, is all about soothing your mainland-born worries and “chasing away” the “cares that infest the day”, as Longfellow knew it.






In sum, Santorini is about deciphering and digesting the wizardry of nature, finding your own “philosophical stone” in the grandeur of rocks and cliffs, and getting inspiration in the minute details of a very distinct and inimitable environment. Small wonder that as a Russian, accustomed to ponder over the stealthy meanings of the surrounding particulars, I was encouraged to pencil it in the old-fashioned notebook, hallmark of many old-timers as my humble self.


Fancy Island

Walk on brink of a steep slope,
Hoping there is always hope,
Reach the limits of the edge
With all risks you cannot hedge,

Stand exposed to briskly breeze
Wanting you to squeeze and freeze,
Face skin-burning hefty heat
With nowhere to retreat,

Hear volcano's dormant growl
Underneath the water's bowl...
Yet, besides caldera's charm,
One thing would your fears disarm:

You will willingly embrace
Fanciful design of place…
Beautiful, in fact, is mini
On the Isle of Santorini.


II. Quite a number of seasoned if not professional voyagers, leaving their emotional outbursts and cool-minded descriptions in the web, claim that Santorini is the primary tourist destination in the rich assortment of Greek islands. I find it hardly disputable.




Having set foot on the island long before the peak hot season, I nevertheless was impressed by the omnipresence of wanderers from the vicinity, meaning European shores, and far-off lands.

I once bumped into a true Ozzie, a typical redneck, using as a vernacular a peculiar mix of English and aye-aye oldspeak. Then there was a robust-built German moderately curious when meeting strangers. A couple of fast-talking American ageless ladies were indoctrinating an aboriginal, most probably a local party-linked functionary, imposing on him the stereotyped methodology of winning elections. Pathetic!

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At one moment I sensed a nagging premonition while watching a scrupulous artist with a photo camera taking incessant shots from fancy angles at a newlywed Chinese couple. As the monetized opulence of the middle class in the rising “new economies” gets thicker, the traditional European vacationers will be dispersed and diluted in the cosmopolitan melting pot with the “new wave” of demanding ardent travellers from lands afar.

It would be natural just like natural is the appeal of the breathtaking views forming a theatrical setting for all who would want to celebrate and make their honeymoon an unforgettable lifetime experience. Simply choose a spot to have an overview of the megalithic beauty predating our times, or discover the gastronomical delights of the local cuisine. Family-run boutique-style restaurants attract with unpretentious design, promising homely comfort while saying plainly: “Come and taste Greece!”



Frankly, it makes a difference whether you digest the aroma of the island's scenery and food in broad daylight or at dusk or at late night. As you might know, when the light dims, other senses are alerted and enable you to see things in 3D, smell the grippy iodine of the seaweeds, hear the wings of the bats slice the thickened air…




No use to pretend that Greek tourist industry remained intact not being impaired by the weighty debt crisis and euro liquidity crunch. After talking to my hotel manager, a lively lady in her 40s, absolutely loyal to the ‘craftswomanship' of hospitality, there were no illusions left: The downside effect of the financial woes for her trade was the relative decrease in numbers of visitors and the substantial shrinking of the most generous segments of the tourists' flow.

The on-going murky bargain between the omnipotent “troika” of international creditors and the government in Athens did not improve neither the repute of Greece as a preferable destination for a holiday or a summer vacation nor the eagerness of the most dynamic voyagers in Europe, which are the Germans, to travel as usual to resorts in Greece where their bundeskanzlerin has been routinely portrayed as the fuhrer of the Fourth Reich.

And yet, the Greek have preserved this inherent quality so explicitly featured in the character of Zorba the Greek: tenacity and a nonchalant attitude to the unfriendly circumstances.

Watching them at close range, you cannot but admire this national trait, moulded by centuries of foreign invasions, oppression, deprivation, famine, humiliation, and other destructive occurrences. In an ambitious attempt to get to grips with the predominant properties of the Greek archetype, I composed a short poem dedicated to an old friend of mine, Jorgos Hatziioannou, who enriched me a long time ago with a sensible and justifiable guidance: “Vladimir, be tender to Greece!”


Feel Greek

When you are worn out and weak
With no help around to seek,
There is one survival gimmick:
Sip your coffee and feel Greek.

When the prospects are all bleak —
Earth inherited by meek,
There is one survival secret:
Sip your coffee and think Greek.

When you're struggling, so to speak,
Without paddle up shit creek,
There is one survival wisdom:
Sip your coffee and be Greek.


… The mood of the people affected by a “sea of troubles” usually reflects their innermost thoughts and psychological maturity. The sign hanging on one of the walls serves is evidencing the proverbial and going back to the antique times stoicism of the Greeks.



Isn't it a White city on top of the hill?!


III. When offered a chance to pretend for a while to be a “gentleman of leisure”, and with no pressing necessity either to do your job's routine, you involuntarily become more attentive to all the particulars of life in all dimensions and incarnations.

The island's fauna cannot boast of endemic or exotic species. The usual mix. But it served as inspiration for some verses aimed at summing up the human perception of the “Animal world”, featured in a selected assortment of snap-shots.


We are not the sole and main,
World, apart us, also features
Multicultural domain
Full of animals and creatures.

What the careless human dumps,
Gaps in food chain links and narrows:
Picking endlessly bread crumbs
Is nutrition sport for sparrows.
Fish within ship's foaming trail
Chased by seagulls. It's amazing!
Never meet an epic fail,
Their beaks like swords are blazing.

Cats are pleasant. That's because
They are gentler than the average,
Less inclined to use their claws
As a most convincing leverage.
Frozen still on cliffs and rocks,
Warming up on sunny morning,
Lizard teases us and mocks,
Looks like jewel stone-adorning.
Stubbornness stands firm on hoofs,
Donkey's lot is worth to mention;
Their case one dictum proves:
Good is Evil's shade extension.

Watch the buzzing busy bee
Work long hours (not so funny);
In my other life I'd be
Bee the Doer making honey.
Dogs are friends, and pals, and chaps,
Number one, though listed seven,
This is why we say perhaps:
Passed away dogs go to heaven.

We are not the sole and main,
World, apart us, also features
Multicultural domain
Full of animals and creatures.

IV. Mystic charm. True, you can vivisect the beauty first into segments, then into small particles, and end up scrupulously examining them, one by one, through the magnifying glass. Taken separately, all the elements of the mosaic panorama, thrust open from the hillside plateau, would certainly look amazing, astounding, awesome, whatever high-flown epithet you choose to apply. Yet, only a holistic approach to this cluster of natural splendour will allow you to inhale the perfect harmonies of light, colour and shape.



Apparently, the lucky moment when Santorini exposes its uttermost grandeur of caldera and the sea views comes at dusk prior to sunset. The little secret that ensures the magnitude of the island's miracle does not escape you is to embrace the scenery from all angles and in a slow-paced manner. Do not hurry but do not delay as well. Watch the sunset in a meditative mood, detached from marginal details of the landscape and, as Byron called it, the “watery plain”, as if you are sipping a glass of a seasoned Porto. Do not gulp, sip, sip, sip.



Sunsets' Message

Pale orange with a fading rating
Slowly sinking into Aegean Sea
Makes us, humans with long lenses waiting
This pathetic moment for to see.

Would it be the same if we were knowing
Sun expires now, it is his plight?
Would we watch with sadness final glowing
Of purveyor of the warmth and light?

We would be subdued, depressed and frantic…
But rejoice for life was mapped out wise:
The sunsets would never be romantic
If we were not destined for sunrise.



The Lure of Santorini
Here you are free from praise and curses,
You can choose to keep profile low
While the Time in molecules disperses
In the lazy wind and sunshine flow.

It's a pastoral oasis luring
Where the urban windmills stop to grind.
Sense the calm of waveless waters stirring.
Think tranquility and peace of mind,

Think of Aristotle and of Plato,
Wish eternity against all odds…
Standing on caldera's hillside plateau
You are close to sky and maybe gods.
It's a perfect place that nature nurtures
On the Day of Reckoning to go:
To repent, admit all sins and virtues,
Be forgiven and forgive your foe.



Finally, it happens: A revelation befalls you, and you uncover the innermost meaning of the material world, of every single cell, of the succession of seemingly random occurrences in your life. At last, you effortlessly weave together the strings and bridge the narrows of “outrageous fortune”. You re-discover your inner self, sometimes, your long-forgotten and lost identity.


Santorini… No way can you dispel the creeping suspicion that here and only here you are close to sky and, just maybe, to gods.


Vladimir MIKHEEV

№12(105), 2015