Sarah Coles




Small ferry to another marble island, Tinos, the Lourdes of Greece. Or Knock of Ireland, or Fatima of Portugal. In 1822, time of Greek reunification, a nun Pelagia had a vision in which she saw a buried icon painted by St Luke. (Bernadette, other young women, children, it’s amazing how these visions all over the place fire up pilgrimage sites). Pelagia got everyone digging, and the was duly unearthed. A

Crawling to the icon

slew of miracles, particularly healing and rescuing ships at sea, was effected through its intervention. A massive church was built for it, and today pilgrims come en masse (we were lucky it wasn’t a festival otherwise we’d never have found a room), and crawl on hands and knees from the seafront up to it.

There’s a carpet all the way from the sea to the church, and the Protestant part of me is revolted by the ugliness of these fat bottoms sticking out, and the ridiculousness of able bodied women and one or two men crawling with handbags slung round their necks. Inside the church, where all is a night sky glittering with silvery chandeliers dangling silver ships, and candles and silver ex votos. These last are little legs, arms, hearts, babies, young men, young women pasted on icons. Outside are stalls of them – you donate an ex voto of the relevant part of your body which has healed. Inside, people are wiping their eyes, having arrived and kissed the holy icon (like dark leather and so studded with jewels you can’t see its face), and lit their yellow candles and placed them in a tray of sand. I think, how narrow and arrogant to despise their way of reaching this portal to the sacred.

Kind, wrinkled ugly women in black, everywhere, compared with the white characterless beauties in the museum.  Vase has a ring dance, and another shows ‘birth of Athena’.

In the water at the sea front, fluid stones are malachite.

We are at the Hotel Poseidonio, with a balcony overlooking the harbour. But Bob has no switch on his side of the bed, and coming back from the bathroom in the middle of the night he falls, smashes a glass and hurts himself.

PYRGOS, with marble bus shelter


Pyrgos, village square

So an extra day here, resting for him and a bus for me – a


Tobacco Tree

local bus, with no guide shouting boring statistics – over mountains dotted with tiny chapels and little pigeon houses, introduced they say by the Venetians – I have seen never seen anything like them. White pigeons fly out in a cloud.  The mountainsides, as in Naxos, bear terraces, but they are tumbling because they are not amenable to mechanisation, and the workers have departed for Athens, Europe and the US, or run cafes for the tourists.  In the village of Pyrgos, everything is marble and the exquisite bus shelter – a bus shelter! – could be mistaken for a sanctuary. I walk about six glorious miles to the harbour along a winding road among terraces which reveal an island in the dark blue sea. Pick asphodel, and strange tubular yellow flowers on a small tree which I am thrilled to learn later is the Tobacco Tree – from south America. Crepe and wine in a little restaurant by the water, and then the bus comes to take me back. Walking = happiness.

I feel a certain death as we leave each place – never to see this again. There’s no repeat travel, only change.

The islands, the churches, Athens, the air, the little lanes creeping up the green sides of the Acropolis.


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