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Songs That Transport You To Another Place

The White Rose Of Athens - Nana Mouskouri

In 1981, my husband and I went on our first flotilla holiday in the Ionian islands of Greece. On one memorable night, the flotilla moored in the bay below the village of Spartohori, on the island of Meganisi. Spartohori was built high on a hill, to be safe from pirates, and there was a long climb up from the harbour to the village where we were booked in for a Greek cultural evening at one of the tavernas.

After the food, folk songs and dancing, most of the Brits headed back to their yachts. A few of us lingered over our wine, and a group of waiters, who were heading out to go fishing by the light of the moon, were keen for us to come with them. We were a little unsure, wondering whether this was a way of extracting more money from naive tourists, but it was not so. They simply wanted us to experience the beauty of being out on the water under the full moon. It was truly magical, with a flat calm, and only the sound of the oars and a few whispered words.

The next morning, I climbed up the hill to buy fresh bread at the village baker’s. On my way back, I met Lucas, one of the waiters from the previous evening. Lucas spoke very good English, and he insisted I should come with him to the village’s Belvedere where, he claimed, I would see the most beautiful view in the Ionian Sea. I agreed, and he was right.

From Spartohori , you look out over what is almost an inland sea. The mountains of the mainland are to your right, with the island of Lefkas on your left merging with the mainland in the far distance, and a sprinkling of little islands in between. It is hard to explain the beauty of the scene, but for me it seemed to be perfection. I’m not sure, though, whether I was more impressed by the view itself, or by Lucas’ attachment to it.

The view from Spartohori

Lucas explained to me that for most of the year, he lived in Athens, where he worked in a bookshop. In the summer, he returned to his home in Spartohori, to work in the family taverna. This was where he really wanted to be, but there was no work during the winter so of course he went back to Athens. He looked forward every year to coming back home, and he wanted more people to know about Meganisi and how beautiful it was.

Lucas’ description of his life reminded me of Nana Mouskouri’s song, The White Rose of Athens. It actually tells an opposite story, of a girl left in Athens while her lover disappears, presumably to work elsewhere, but who will return to Athens “ when the white rose blooms again”. But the yearning in Lucas’ voice, and the resignation in his words, mirrored the song that I already knew very well. So that’s why, when I hear the song, I visualise that scene.

Mick and I have had several flotilla holidays since then, in Greece, Turkey, Croatia and the Virgin Islands, but I’ve never been so struck by a view as I was by this one. In 2016, we went back to the Ionian islands, and found ourselves back at Spartohori. We were slightly apprehensive, fearing that development would have caught up with and overwhelmed the perfect village of our memories.

There was, in fact, a huge new resort on the hillside around the headland from Spartohori, but mercifully out of sight. Amazingly, the village itself and the view from the Belvedere were virtually unchanged. What had become of Lucas, I do not know.

Elizabeth Bryson

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