Letter from Analipsi: Time Stands Still in The Real Greece

As you walk along this cool, forest-covered lane in Analipsi you're struck by the quiet and the contrast with the brilliant sunlight ahead, and a single leaf that seems to be floating before your eyes. (PHOTO: Andy Dabilis)

From outside the second-story window of the old stone house on the side of a forest-covered hill, there’s a view of mountains, a valley, Lake Trihonida, fig trees, a church and cemetery where those who stayed in Analipsi in western Greece, still remain. Forever.

The headstones tell the story of an old way of living: 98, 99, 100, 102, 104. People live long here because you tend to abide by natural rhythms, taking your time, leaving the wristwatch in the desk drawer – don’t worry, another church bell rings every half hour, all day, every time, but after a while you don’t even notice that.

It’s amusing to read stories about Greece expecting another 30 million or so tourists this year, most in the summer and most going to the same, overcrowded places where the real Greece is buried: Santorini, Mykonos, thinking a vacation is sitting cheek-by-jowl with other people on the beach and drinking $10 warm beers.

None of them come here and that’s good and too bad because this is Greece, a village the Nazis didn’t reach in World War II, some people deciding it was better to blow up a bridge getting here as an advisory against that.

In Athens, it’s in the high 90’s and it gets warm, even hot here despite the elevation, but at night – after watching an orange sun set over the mountains above the lake, a cool calm begins to descend and it’s almost totally quiet, before the squeals of children whose families come from here bring them back from where they live now: Athens, Sydney, Chicago, New York.

It reminds of the wonderful old PBS TV show My Palikari, with Telly Savalas and Irene Papas – a still-living treasure of Greece who’s on a par with the late Melina Mercouri as an actress and symbol of this country.

Savalas’ character, a New York businessman, decides to bring his teenage son to the family’s village in Greece in the 1950’s and here’s the delicious twist – it was filmed in his grandparent’s village in the Peloponnese but Savalas’ character doesn’t like what he finds – his son does, soon forgetting the New York Giants baseball team and falling in love with a Greek girl as Savalas’ character does with Papas’.

Savalas’ character remembered a paradise but found a flawed village that disappointed until he realized what it meant and you get that feeling here – what a Greek village really means.

At this moment, from the window of my partner’s family’s old house, the sun is burning orange and there are more families arriving for the Dormition of Mother Mary holiday, children scurrying around a stone terrace outside a big stone church with a view of the lake.

It seems the village and valley are burnishing an orange tint; there’s a zephyr softly pushing aside the olive trellis branches that attached themselves gently to the second-floor balcony, and in the distance the mountains are fading, turning grey with dusk and there’s serenity, mirrored in the reflection of the sun bouncing off the lake, thoughts of an ice cold beer rising fast.

In a piece for The New Statesman about why she comes to Greece every summer for a month to be alone, Megan Nolan wrote of Hydra, the island without cars, and said despite the tourists and the harbor being overrun that, “not more than ten minutes’ walk away, there are haphazard streets and tavernas and squares with an air of permanence.

“This sense of the enduring is part of why I love Greece so much. On a long walk one evening as the sun was setting, I passed a decrepit green farmhouse that I took to be abandoned, until I glanced at a shirtless man emerging from its upper window, thoughtfully drawing on a cigarette and regarding the sky. I felt – as I sometimes do at home in Ireland, outside of the cities – the peace of a place that isn’t obsessed with building, expanding.”

That’s how you feel in Analipsi.

It’s not perfect and it’s not paradise because it’s peopled with the few hundred remaining permanent residents who didn’t follow their families to Athens or Australia or the United States, preferring what they knew was here.

There’s a couple of elderly men taking advantage of modern technology in a place where chickens and goats abound, partaking of watching, shall we say, more than slightly saucy videos but, being hard of hearing, can be heard shouting encouragement to the young women performing in them, to the laughs of others who disregard the eccentricity.

The people are religious and there’s two churches, with a now-closed school between them, but it doesn’t keep them from being of this earth, one very elderly woman taking a regular trip to see an equally elderly man for what everyone knows is more than talk.

There’s an old monastery of utter calm where you can sit and just absorb the quiet and look into yourself to reflect on what’s important in your life and what isn’t so that you don’t, as Kazantzakis wrote, weigh up your life and come out wanting.

There’s more but it will have to wait because the sun’s getting low and there’s just enough time to grab that Greek beer, get on the balcony and watch the sun go down. It’s lovely, there’s not many people. Forget what I told you. Don’t come here.