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Between Prophet Elias Mountain and the city of Rhodes nestles the island's strangest sight, Petaloudes. Here, down a narrow valley, a waterfall tumbles into a milky green pool. Lining the defile is a forest of zidia trees, a species of flora which smells to a butterfly like Eau de Cologne but like tincture of benzoin to everyone else. Guides will escort you over a rustic catwalk suspended across the milky pool, then up the hill past the waterfall, where they will scatter pebbles in the trees. Then butterflies fill the air like orange clouds till they tire and flit back to the zidias where they close their wings, remain camouflaged to the untrained eye, and inhale sweet eaude-benzoin, until the next tourist comes.
For the most magnificent view of Rhodes and of the Aegean, turquoise near the shore and deep blue as it stretches toward the purple ranges of Turkish Anatolia, one ought to travel up Mount Philermos just outside town. Here in the late Italian heyday II Duce built a cloister, installed it with monks and hung an outdoor pulpit on the building where the priests could hold al fresco services. The entrance leads up an avenue of cypresses and bougainvillea to the cloister and the ruins of a temple of Athena. Stunted pastel cedars form an archway like crossed swords leading to the belvedere. On the plain below was the old Homeric city of Ialysus, dating from about 1600 B.C., a bustling city of which Mount Philermos was the acropolis.
I left Rhodes in a Fitzpatrick finish at dusk aboard the Semiramis, the steamer that was making its regular five-day island excursion out of Athens. The sun was gone but there was a bluish luminescence in the sky, enough to silhouette the history of the island—the turrets and bastions of the Crusaders, the spires of the churches, the minarets left by the Turks, and the government buildings that had risen under the yeasty influence of II Duce.
REASONABLE EXCURSIONS, TOO
Although Ghiolman Brothers on Constitution Square in Athens can make all the arrangements for those who wish to charter a yacht, anyone limited by inexperience or the exchequer can do the islands handsomely and in comfort aboard the Semiramis, which each week from April to October makes five-day and two-day trips through the islands. Five-day excursions leave Piraeus, the port for Athens, each Monday evening, returning each Saturday morning; covering Melos, Crete, Rhodes, Delos and Mykonos. The two-day trip sails Saturday afternoon, covers Mykonos and Delos over the weekend and arrives back in Athens before anyone is up on Monday morning.
The tariff for the five-day ride runs anywhere from 1,100 to 7,000 drachmas ($37-$233) and includes berth, wholesome dining-car meals in a family style dining salon, most ground excursions, and the services of a guide. I came to know our guide, once we had landed on Delos the next morning, as a lady brimming with mythology, memorabilia and erudition.
In the night we crossed from the Dodecanese to the Cyclades. Delos arrived with the sun. It proved a graveyard; a trackless, treeless, three-mile flatland (except for a hill 350 feet high) bare of roads or population. But Delos once was mighty, a seat of religion and commerce.
Zeus, the philanderer, had gotten Leto with child. When Zeus's legal wife heard the news she forbade Leto any land on which to give birth. But Leto was finally aided by the roaming island of Delos which agreed to let Leto have her baby there if the island could obtain a permanent location. Poseidon anchored Delos in the Cyclades, and as Leto held on to a palm tree she gave birth to Apollo, god of the sun. Swans came to sing and the island was covered with flowers. So it came to be that the Night, symbolized by Leto, clung on to the Dawn (the palm tree) to give birth to the Sun.
The legend of Apollo's birth there made the island a religious capital for all Ionia, and in time the richest and most cultural center of the Greek world. Magnificent mosaics are still inlaid in the mansions of the wealthy. A Greek theater still sits among the weeds, complete with stone armchairs added by the Romans. Near the theater are the remains of an ancient hotel for transients with forty rooms. Phallic carvings, symbolic of strength and life, stand on pedestals and are photographed by tourists. Remnants of a mammoth statue of Apollo lie in the tall grass. Part of one foot is in the British Museum. A lone palm planted by the French archaeologists is the only tree on Delos. The only animals, save for an occasional lizard, are the row of stone white lions, lean and taut, put up by the Naxians in the fifth or sixth century B.C. and found again in 1906. And the island's only people, summer people, scramble omelets in the little pavilion, sell wide-brimmed straw hats against the fiery sun of the shadeless isle and dried sea horses which can be taken to Athens to be silvered and worn as jewelry.
Mykonos, whence I was delivered in a shuddering ca�que, rises bright white out of the blue sea. Its houses that grow up the hillside are whitewashed every week. The walks in front of its churches—it has a reputed 365—are whitewashed too. Most of the churches are tiny chapels given as thanks by the island's many seafaring men who were delivered safely from perilous storms. On the hills above are thatch-topped white stone pillars of the windmills, sails spinning in the breeze, calling the seafarers home.