Live from Lithi: Burned But Beautiful

CHIOS, GREECE – Americans of Greek descent and otherwise that have visited the Greek islands know that with rare exception, lush green countryside is nowhere to be found. The “prasinada” native Greeks often speak about looks more like stone-washed denim green scattered among rocks and hay to most of us that are used to “real” prasinades.
The Northern Aegean island of Chios, however, though not quite as green as Skiathos, Thassos, or even Corfu, is one of the precious few to boast somewhat luxuriously green mountains that surround its magnificent blue waters. There is far less of that green now then there was last year, however, as much of it has turned brown or black, charred from the massive forest fire on August 18 last year that ravaged a sizable portion of the island.
Nonetheless, sitting at a seaside coffeehouse/bar at Lithi Beach, the tranquil sea at which I gaze – even as it is flanked by nearly-naked hills now – seems no less beautiful than before.
A friend who lives year-round in the island’s main town, Chora, has not ventured to Lithi – less than a 30-minute drive – since the fire, because he cannot bear to witness the damage for himself.
Yet, non-Greek American friends of ours visiting Chios for the first time this year find Lithi to be absolutely gorgeous. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.{64794}

The mystery about how the fire started in the first place – a phenomenon not uncommon in Greece during the hot summer months – remains unknown. Was it simply the result of a cigarette tossed out of a car and into some dry weeds on the side of the road, an act that surely happens hundreds if not thousands of times a day here? Was it landowners barred from building on their historically protected property that set fire to it on purpose, to collect the insurance money and then have a right to build on the scorched land? Or was it the catch-all scapegoat many Greeks often blame: “the Turks?”
No one knows for sure, but what remains undisputed is that the island as a whole has suffered for it – not only in terms of an blow to its aesthetic appeal, but also much damage to the island’s lucrative “masticha” industry – which involves extracting mastic resin from trees that are virtually incapable of growing anywhere else in the world other than on Chios’ Southern region.
Was it purely an accident, a stupid prank, a calculated political statement, a desperate maneuver based on economic hardship, or just an act of pure evil? We can all draw our own conclusions, but anyone with eyes surely can see what a shame it is.
Nonetheless, there are a couple of different ways to look at the situation: with sadness, when thinking about how beautiful the land was as compared to now, or with joy, in appreciating how beautiful it continues to be in comparison to many other places on earth.
After all, the pristinely clean water, calm as if it were a river, is still there. So is the sand – and many a visitor to Greece knows how hard finding a sandy beach can be. So are the coffee bars by the water, at which to sit and listen to soothing music and whittle the hours away, and the restaurants that serve some of the best food on the entire island.
Some of the beauty of Lithi – and a good part of the surrounding area – has burned away. But a whole lot more of it remains unscathed, ready to be enjoyed.