CHORA: The Secret of Andros

Hora, Andros
Batsi courtesy of DepositPhotos.com

We rent a car today. A Fiat Panda. No frills, just basic car. We leave Batsi around ten in the morning and drive towards the town of Andros or what the locals call Chora which means village or in the case of many islands, the main village. The interior of the island is a lush green with tall Cyprus trees and valleys filled with exotic plants and insects. When we get to Chora we park the car at the entrance of the village, which is closed to traffic, and walk to the end of the peninsula that the town sits upon. When we reach the last group of houses we find a large platia that overlooks the ruins of a castle, and the sea which is incredibly clear and blue. Andrea picks that moment to get mad at me for listening to Dorian's advice and staying in Batsi instead of following her will and going directly to Chora. I can see her point but how was I to know that Dorian's information was totally wrong? Was I to blame for taking the advice of a trusted friend? And anyway, wasn't she the one who told me to call him? It could have been worse. If I hadn't called him we might have stayed in Gavrion with the transvestites and hookers. One bad argument with Andrea and I might have ruined my life forever. Gavrion chicks are too easy, if chicks are what they are.

We go for a swim off a pier at the end of the village and are soon joined by a dozen young nymphs and one old lady. I visualize swimming out to sea with them to a small island spending our lives in simple sensual bliss. Even the old lady is there playing grandmother to our dozens of little children while giving the girls advice on how best to please a man. My fantasy is shattered by Andrea who wants to go to the art museum. Just as I am getting creative.

There are several museums in Chora. The first one we visit is the Nautical museum which consists of two rooms and a bunch of photos of oil tankers, most of them from the last twenty years or so, but a few old ones too. The place is falling apart and the curator just sits there smoking cigarettes and reading her fashion magazine. There is no admission charge, and nothing to buy and really, nothing to steal so why she is there I don't know. Maybe she's on some kind of community service, or social assistance work program. Maybe she's an expert on oil tankers but I can't even think of one good questions to test her with, so we move on to the Goulandris Museum of Modern Art.

Apparently Goulandris is or was a Greek shipping tycoon who decided that after half a century of exploitation and pollution of the sea, he would give something back to society by building a museum in a place so remote, that only he and his friends could enjoy it. The featured artist for the summer is Georgio de Chirico, one of the most famous of the surrealists. Born in Greece of wealthy aristocratic Italian parents he had the luxury of becoming an artist rather then going out and finding a job. His persistence paid off and he became a major figure in the world of art and an international celebrity. I don't really get it. His early sketches and paintings seem like he had been struggling with the human form and then decided "The hell with it. I canít do this. I'll just create my own forms". He did a bunch of sculptures based on these humanoid creatures of his imagination but it all looks like the workings of a bored rich man with too much time on his hands.

I suppose the sad truth is that the only people who had time to create art in those days were the rich. The poor people were too busy struggling to feed themselves and their families to worry about expressing themselves artistically. It was like rock music is today. The guys who make it are the ones who have equipment, money for recording, and don't have to work day jobs. I'm sure there are exceptions in both the world of music and the world of art. The cream eventually rises to the surface. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life and now a single piece sells for millions. A lot of good that does him though.

Guys like de Chirico were the superstars of their day. And look. He's being exhibited in a gallery that nobody goes to on the far side of an unpopular island in Greece while every museum in the world would kill for a Van Gogh. Things do have a way of working out in a really pointless way. But we have a good time at the museum and Amarandi loves riding up and down in the elevator.

We continue our journey by following a tiny road that runs beside a small algae filled river which eventually hooks up with the main road. That takes us to the town of Cortheon, which is semi-deserted except for a great taverna on the beach where we have lunch. We drive to the far end of the beach for a swim but it's filthy, covered in plastic and tar that had washed up from across the Aegean Sea. We get in the car and drive back over the mountains where we stop at a tiny roadside cafeneon covered by grape vines where we enjoy a spectacular view while being serenaded by Motley Crue from the young proprietors ghetto-blaster. We stop again outside of Gavrion and while Andrea and Amarandi pet his donkey, a farmer tries to sell me a house for twenty million drachma. This end of the island is poor and people are desperate to sell to foreigners.

After taking an hour break from our vehicle in which Andrea reads and Amarandi and I watch a basketball game in our favorite restaurant, we get back in the car and drive up the mountain to the village of Katakilo and have dinner at a nice taverna owned by a guy named Vassos who gives us the best home-made tsipuro we have ever tasted and some excellent retsina. He's a total basketball fanatic and in a restaurant whose clientele is mostly farmers and shepherds, he is desperate to speak to anyone else who is interested in the game. The girls get bored and sit in the car while he tells me everything there is to know about Greek basketball. Even though it's more then I want to know I really enjoy myself. It's a beautiful setting with plants and sweet smelling flowers. It's also about ten degrees cooler then Batsi which is a furnace when we return. We were planning to leave for Athens tomorrow but perhaps that might be unwise.

Tuesday

It was unbelievably hot in our room last night and I spent hours wondering why I had been so compelled to come to Greece this summer. I never thought of it as an illness before but like alcoholism, that's what it is. While I'm in the USA, sometimes the desire to come to Greece is so strong that I feel like I will do whatever it takes to come. Sell all my possessions, work at a relentless pace, beg borrow or steal. Then I get here and once again I come to my senses. "What am I doing here?" I wonder. America was like a dream and here I am continuing my lifelong vacation that stopped being interesting ages ago, probably about the time I stopped being single. Face it. Meeting women here is half the fun. Without that all you have is the hot sun, the sea and an occasional moment of philosophical clarity somewhere between the first and third glass of ouzo. Without the prospect of romance what's to look forward to besides dinner?

So here I am with my little family unit. Most lonely men would be envious of my situation. They believe that life is incomplete until you have the solid foundation of the family structure, not realizing that the grass is always greener on the other side and there is probably not a married man here who would not risk everything for a fling with the right person. If the married women felt the same way things would be a lot more interesting. Are we ever satisfied in our relationships or does the hunger for romance or something more, persist until spiritual numbness sets in?

So I wake up this morning to a beautiful cool breeze. I take the rental car up the mountain to fill it with gas so I can return it. I feel rejuvenated by the wind and I wander around town before coming back to the room. We were planning on leaving today but the man at the newspaper store said it is sweltering in Athens with people falling down gasping in the streets from the heat and the pollution. Andrea thinks that would be an improvement over Batsi, but when I go to buy tickets for the hydrofoil they are so expensive that we decide to take the ferry which isn't leaving until five in the afternoon. Then Andrea decides she doesn't want to spend three nights in Athens while we wait for her mother to arrive from America, so now we are going to leave on the 11am ferry tomorrow. That means we have another day to spend in limbo, doing whatever we can to avoid the heat. If you think of a vacation as a narrowing down of needs so that all or most of them can be simply met, then this is the ultimate vacation. We have one lone desire and that is to keep cool. When that is taken care of we are quite content. Then we can move on to the next project which is relief from boredom.

I told myself I would not attempt any crossword puzzles this summer. To me they epitomize my inability to entertain myself through my own mental efforts. Why do a crossword when I can use that time for spiritual reflection, meaningful literature or chronicling my thoughts on the computer? These are all very valid reason but the truth is why should I spend time doing something that makes me feel stupid. It was Socrates who realized that he was wiser than other men only because he was aware of his own ignorance. A crossword puzzle not only makes me aware of my own universal ignorance but of my own relative stupidity. How can I do so poorly on the NY Times Monday puzzle when the loser at the next table who spends his day baking on the beach reading Steven King is one word short of completion? I suppose you could classify crosswords as meaningless knowledge but if, as A Course In Miracles says, it is our spiritual inheritance to be all-knowing, why can't I access any of this shit now? Steve Gratz says it's just a technique that once you master, you can solve any puzzle. It doesn't have as much to do with what you know, but knowing what the puzzle wants. So it's a Zen thing, like recognizing octopus on the ocean floor. Once you learn to see them they are everywhere.

I think I'll go fishing....

We are cold. I can't believe it. Thanks to Andrea my body is going through sensations that are very pleasurable even though the air temperate is still hot and everyone else is miserable. Amarandi fell asleep and we took advantage of the situation to take a long swim. I was ready to get out after twenty seconds but Andrea made me stay in an extra twenty minutes and now I feel totally revitalized. It's too bad Andrea doesn't feel the same way. The end of her fingers have gone numb. We ran into the British couple who promote hard-core music in New South Wales and they confided in us that there is the possibility of a ferry strike this week. It makes sense to me with half the country taking their vacation this weekend what better time to have a strike and piss-off as many people as you can. It's really annoying. Not that I have any compassion for the lunatic hordes who in a few days will be screaming at each other and trampling children for a good seat on the ferry boat as they begin their month of non-stop gluttony, cigarette smoking and complaining during what the Greeks call "diakopes" and we call holiday. This is the time when all the nice quiet places are no longer nice nor quiet. The tavernas hide the best home made retsina and serve the bottled crap from Athens. The once pristine beaches will be full of plastic containers and every wave will bring in a fresh pile of cigarette butts. If there is a shady secluded spot, hidden away behind some rocks or trees you can be sure that someone will have discovered it and taken a dump there. Amateur divers with bulging bellies will seek out and harpoon every octopus in sight, no matter how small they are and their stupid wives will beam proudly as their husbands display their catch. I hate diakopes.

I remember twenty years ago when the Greeks didn't even go to the islands unless they were from there. It took the influx of foreigners to show them that they had a national treasure and in that short time since they have almost totally destroyed it. Tiny villages of one and two room stone dwellings have given way to cement apartment buildings. Our landlady, as nice as she is, built a three story apartment building and supermarket in what used to be her garden, that obscures the entire view of the old stone house that had overlooked the beach for a hundred years. Andrea's house in Kea has suffered a similar fate. Her grandfather built roads, schools, churches, fountains and the town hall, and had a beautiful neo-classic house overlooking the entire village and the hills beyond. Some yuppie couple from Athens either inherited or bought the house across the street and added another story. Our view now is of their kitchen. We can sit on the balcony at sunset and watch the woman do her dishes. We could even light her cigarette so she doesn't have to take her hands out of the water. The only suitable response is for us to turn the ancestral home's basement into a disco. If you can't beat them, join them in the destruction of all tradition. But word has it that the aunts are thinking about selling the house which would deprive us of our chance for revenge.

So this is our last night here unless the strike begins tomorrow. Jim just called to say that he won't be seeing us because his friends from Athens have arrived and anyway we can always see each other in the States. Not that we ever have. I sensed a chill in our relationship the moment he realized I had sat in his car with a wet bathing suit. If owning an expensive car means that you can't sit on its leather seats in wet bathing suits then what's the point in having an expensive car? The extra money you pay for the car should make it more convenient, not less. My friend Dino had a $40,000 Ferrarai that was incredible on the empty highway but useless in traffic. It would sputter and cough and overheat. If I sit on the vinyl seat in my car with a wet bathing suit on in an hour or so it will be dry. But fancy leather seats will never be the same especially if I have been swimming in salt water. So which is better? Actually I felt kind of bad because while I was sitting in the front wearing my wet bathing suit, Jim was yelling at Petros for sitting in the back in his wet bathing suit. I was hoping Jim wouldn't notice mine, but when I got out, the expression on his face told me he had seen the wet spot that encompassed the entire front leather upholstered bucket seat. That's why it didn't surprise me when we didn't hear from them for four days. But, if a friendship can be shattered by a wet bathing suit then it wasn't much of a friendship, was it? I think Batsi is getting to me.

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