- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The isles of Greece splatter like errant batter in the deep azure of the Aegean. On some no trees grow, but elsewhere the castle walls of the Crusaders are sprayed with battlefield bursts of pink oleander. Some isles are lush only with the sun-bleached relics of civilizations now nearly 5,000 years old; and some are fishing villages with cubist houses that are whitewashed every week. Butterflies are the only clouds in the sky of one; but on many the white sails of windmills fill with the Aegean breezes and spin the sun-clear, sea-washed air, day upon day, as inexorably as love and evolution, coaxing the water up from the ancient earth, and as the legend insists, whispering to the departed sailors across the seas, "Come back, come back."
The white islands of Greece are perhaps a year or two away from discovery by the meandering travelers of the guidebook, the aching feet and the packaged tour. Athens is still four hours south and east of Rome, eastern outpost of the grand tour, short form. But for the knowledgeable, the inquisitive, the irrepressible, the pioneer and the romantic, there are all sorts of ways to do the islands—by plane, by yacht, by steamer and even by caique, that broad-in-the-beam barque of the Aegean waters, equipped with a dyspeptic phut-phut motor that sets the ship to shuddering like a bowl of Jell-O in a house by the tracks.
To inspire one's appetite for Grecian waters, if not for Grecian food, one need only sit, as I did on a recent summer's evening, at an open-air taverna on the edge of Passa Limani Bay, the port of the pashas on the outskirts of Athens. Here in the balmy night, where Turkish nobles once landed in great splendor, the circle bay was festooned with the rhinestone bulbs of the fish houses. Yachts bobbed gently in the harbor, and a lone rowboat that was a taxi, a light in its prow, lazied a few yards offshore waiting to take dreamers or yachtsmen out under the Grecian moon.
D�ner kebab, a cornucopia of sliced lamb packed horizontally on a skewer, turned slowly before a bed of charcoal embers. Waiters, summoned by a handclap or an unceremonious rap of china on the table, brought kokoretsi, a provincial hors d'oeuvres manufactured from such delicacies as liver, kidney and spleen all wrapped in intestines and baked until crunchy. We ate tiny clams which, to be fit to eat, must wriggle when squirted with lemon. We cracked lobsters and bought clusters of green lavender strands, which Greek housewives use for mothballs and which romantic foreigners are inclined to carry in some Oscar Wildean posture, sniffing them as they would exotic sachets.
The next morning I flew a Greek Airlines DC-3 to Rhodes to spend two days and wait for the Semiramis, the coastal cruiser, circling up from Melos and Crete.
On Rhodes the crickets sing and the windmills, each a circle of tricorn sails, spin in the sea-borne wind. Youngsters knee-deep in the Aegean Sea probe the harbor floor for snails and prickly sea urchins. It is said that 2,000 years ago in the same spot the Colossus of Rhodes straddled the entrance to the port, and barques sailed under its legs. The colossus was a giant statue to Helios, god of the sun, who endowed the island with great warmth and beauty coaxed from the southern soil. The statue is said to have tumbled in the earthquake of 224 B.C. Long years after, the Crusaders came, capturing the Dodecanese in 1309 and holding them until Suleiman the Magnificent and the Turkish hordes swept over them in 1522. The Turks lasted until 1912 when the Italians marched in; and the Italians lasted until early in World War II when the Germans arrived. The Germans lasted until Greek and British commandos put ashore, and Rhodes became Greek again in 1947.
In language and spirit the Rhodians remained Greek throughout. During their occupation the Italians did much to preserve the memory of the era of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who had made Rhodes their Crusader headquarters. Puffy billows of purple bougainvillea are blankets four feet thick on the old Crusader walls, and pink roses and peach trees grow in the moat of the ancient castle. Peasant women, still wearing high boots from the days when Rhodes was infested with snakes, clatter down the cobbles of the Street of Knights that leads to the castle, home of the grands ma�tres. Iron grillwork lanterns hang over the steep avenue where the knights lived in separate inns, according to their nationality.
The shops are filled with Rhodian pottery and clay Rhodian deer patterned after the real types who live in the hills and are hunted in the fall. You can buy local perfume made of lemon leaves and lemon blossoms and roses of Rhodes. For the traveler, weary of bouncing the circuit of European capitals, there is the amplitude of the Hotel des Roses ensconced in the sand like a stout matron, its feet in the sea. Terraces look out to Turkey across the straits. There is a pebble beach set with seaside tables, flecked with umbrellas and staffed by white-jacketed boys who fetch cool drinks from the bar. An excellent Italian-tinged cuisine is served on a terrace, which at noon is protected from the sun by a red sailcloth stretched across the roof.
For those who would prefer the highlands to the shore, there are two small hotels on Prophet Elias Mountain known as Elaphos and Elaphina, which is to say, buck and doe. Captive deer do graze on the hotel grounds; and the cedars, the pines and the cypresses, not to mention the 2,500-foot elevation, provide a coolness especially appreciated by Alexandrian Greeks, who come to escape the Egyptian summer.
It is a short downhill drive towards the sea to Camirus which, with Lindos and Ialysus, was one of the three Rhodian cities mentioned by Homer. The ruins of Camirus, excavated in the Victorian era by English and French archaeologists, run dramatically down to a cliff that overhangs the sea. High on the rise are the columns of its acropolis; threading underground are the 3,500-year-old water systems; and casting shadows on the ancient floors are the walls of houses whose original owners claimed they could recall how Cassius came to punish the island for siding with Mark Antony, taking back with him 3,000 works of art. Some are now in the Vatican Museum.