Ikaria – mon amour

Ikaria – mon amour

I’m little bit out of practice. It’s been a long time since I wrote love letters. And I have no experience talking about love in public. But now I have to do it. I’ve been in love for a while, but now is the time that I have to declare myself in public, I have to come out and stand up for it in the middle of the square and say YES to my love – I say Yes to Ikaria, mon amour.

Love letter …. sometimes difficult to find the words

Today you may fall in love with all different kinds of men and women and you can live in all sorts of communities. But I decided to adore an island – a Greek island -. I think this is a love from which I don’t want to get divorced, this is a love that will take me a long way, a love that will nourish me – in darkness and in bad times.

Sorry, no, this is not the moment to break my fever  and to call the doctor. This is the time to open Google-maps and to search for the island. My love is already well known in some circles, but it’s still well hidden. If you type „Ikaria – blue zone » in Google, you stand a good chance for a good hit. Different links will tell you that Ikaria is an island in the Aegean sea, next to Samos and that it has about 9,000 inhabitants.

The island is well known for a couple of things: its local feasts, the longevity of its people and some weird local habits. All of this is written very nicely and the pictures are all wonderful. But all this is not enough to describe my love. Ikaria is a holistic experience. I have to smell, to touch, to hear, to taste and to see the island – and only when I’ve experienced it with all my senses then I can start writing a better description. But in which language? Which language has enough words – powerful and dignified – to describe my love? The languages I do speak don’t seem good enough to me. Perhaps Greek might be the perfect match, but my knowledge of it – so far – is only limited. So, where to start ? Perhaps with my basic feelings:

Ikaria is my antipode. The island, its people, the life over there –  in so many aspects it is the absolute opposite of my everyday life, my education, my socio-cultural background. I am German, born in North Rhine-Westfalia and I lived a long time in Potsdam – the most Prussian of all German cities. This has put a stamp on me.

But by sheer coincidence I ended up on Ikaria island in 2007 – in Agios Kirykos. Looking back, it may have been my destiny and I owe this turnaround in my life to a bright woman on Lesbos. I had asked her which island she would recommend that was worth travelling to. She looked at me for a while and answered calmly: „Ikaria“. I would love to know what she had seen in me at that time….

Agios Kirikos harbor

Anyway, I ended up at the harbour of Agios Kirikos and my first intuition lead me directly to the kafenion „Casino », at that time still in its old and typical Greek outfit. I sat there for hours, sipping at my coffee and I lost my bearings. I was surrounded by some wild guys: long beards, long hair, dark sunglasses, who were talking loudly. Some old people were coming on their scooters to this little town to do some business and after a while ended up in a kafenion as well. Young people, carrying their backpacks and sleeping bags, were trying to hitch-hike to the other side of the island. I felt like „transported  into another cosmos.

I had contradictory feelings: either run away or stay longer. My curiosity prevailed. I found a hotel and as I like taking pictures, I started discovering the island with my camera. The island and me, we approached each other suspiciously. I was kind of suspect for the people in town: a woman on her own, taking constantly pictures and obviously no man at her side. I watched the people suspiciously, because sometimes they looked at me so fiercely that it took me some courage to approach them and to talk to them. But somewhere down the road, the ice started to melt. We got used to each other. At the „Casino“ they remembered how I drink my coffee : double Greek coffee, black, without sugar. I got brave enough to approach people to ask for a picture. Because on the island you see « real faces ». Many of them were flattered and we got talking So I got to know a lot of life stories – the stories behind the wrinkles and teethless mouths. And the more we sat together, drinking coffee and Tsipuro, the more I got impressed. There were – and they still are – stories of courageous and self-confident people, who – when times got very tough on the island and there was only little money around to make a living – grabbed their bag and headed off to America, Australia and Canada and who worked in all kind of jobs to earn money. Stories of people who came back, because the island had been calling them. The island with its rough coasts and hidden beaches, with its indescribable colours of the sea during sunset. The island with its own rules of time, its quiet and steady rhythm. The island with its fierceness and its all-embracing love for life, which you can catch at its best when you take part in one of its local feasts – a  Panagyria – and dance the Ikariotiko.

Ikaria graffito

These stories, but above all my own experience with the silence of nature and the community life on the island have touched me very deeply. In the first year I could not really explain what happened to me. I only knew that I had to come back. I wanted to know more, because somehow I knew that if I got a better knowledge about the island, I would also get a better understanding of myself. Therefore I came back. Every summer, but just for a short time to inhale the smell and the taste of the island, to enjoy the feasts, to refill the batteries … and then I took off again. I thought that I should travel to other islands and villages and therefore I reserved only little time for Ikaria within my summer holiday package. I didn’t return for a couple of years. I stayed at other beaches, listened to stories of other people, but once in a while there was this desire. And only sometimes I listened to my inner, burning voice, asking: what the hell am I doing here? Why am I sitting here and not on Ikaria?

Then in 2012 I came back again. Cautiously I got into contact with the people again. They remembered me and surprisingly asked me : where have you been ? I took off with the camera again, I had to stop in the middle of the road by the coast to enjoy the intense and typical smell of the island. Each time I could breathe deeper and more loosely. Each time I could laugh louder. Each time I felt more alive. And last year I knew it for sure. All of a sudden, the idea became sound and clear: I wanted more. Now I don’t want anything else. I want to dig deeper. I want to get to know to the island in its depth – not only during the summer-sunny-touristic-times in August. I want to know how is life on the island during the autumn storms, I would like to discover its beauty during winter, I want to know how the island is preparing for spring time.

Up there in the mountains … the Atheras

Therefore I now give more time and room for my love. I rent a little apartment in Agios Kirykos that allows me to come more often. I am still not ready to engage myself completely, I am still not brave enough, but I decided in favour of the island.

I have some experience following „my love“ to different places, but this time it is different. There is this deep and quiet common understanding that we will take the time needed to get to know to each other – we are not in a hurry – that we are not trying to change each other, but we will follow the rhythm of the island. That’s very demanding. I am always very nervous when I am visiting my love.

Iero beach …

My heart is pounding and my head aches. How will she welcome me? Will I be strong enough – to cope with the cold and the rain during winter, the loneliness during long and dark November evenings when the locals do not leave their homes? Can I put up with the flood of people who are coming to the island during summer and I find my favorite places overcrowded? Until now, I can. It is not easy. My love is confronting me with many challenges, but she enriches me endlessly. In her arms I am « growing together“, she is my best medicine and a very patient teacher. She takes me back to nature, she teaches me the natural rhythm of life. She teaches me happiness when I watch old and young people dancing together at a Panagyri – the love and the joy of the moment. In those moments I know for sure: I do not need much, I do not need another pair of shoes or a bigger car. I need – Ikaria, mon amour.

A heart for Ikaria