It Wasn’t the Meltemi: Tinos Blew Away This Journalist’s Family

September 16, 2022

NEW YORK – The famed wind on the island of Tinos, known for religious pilgrims crawling on their knees every Aug. 15 to the our Lady of Tinos Church and a holy icon of the Virgin Mary believed to have healing powers, can’t blow out the candles but it can blow the doors off cars.

This year was even worse, locals believing the Meltemi, the wind that is so prevalent in the summer that it made Tinos called the “Island of the Winds,” had become something else, something more violent.

“We never had winds like these, with these clouds,” Yiannis Souranis, who runs a rental car company, told The New York Times Rome Bureau Chief Jason Horowitz, who was vacationing there with his family.

“This is not Meltemi. Meltemi are winds with clear skies. This is something else. We have destroyed everything. Nothing is as it was,” he said.

He should know. He said he was working to repair perhaps the 20th car door that had been bent backward by the force of winds the islanders haven’t seen before even if, perhaps a miracle, the church candles are safe.

In a feature, Horowitz – who covers Greece for the paper – said it didn’t take long to know just how ferocious the Super Meltemi was this year, even if the residents think it was something else.

Pilgrims crawl in front of the Holy Church of Panagia of Tinos, on the Aegean island of Tinos, Greece, on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Michalis Karagiannis)

“We arrived in Tinos at night and the wind hit us full blast. It was hard to breathe, like when you’re a kid and you stick your head out the back window of a speeding car. The rows of broom grass shrubs on the rental property pointed at us, horizontal. Airborne grains of sand and dirt stung our shins,” he wrote.

They were expecting the Meltemi, not Hurricane Meltemi, hoping for the seasonal winds in the summer that wash away the heat, especially after they escaped a smothering heat wave in Rome.

“But not this. We walked up to the house, struggling against the wind with the exaggerated steps of mimes,” he said, a property manager yelling over the sound of the wind that it’s not really so bad. “You get used to it,” he said.

But he also told Horowitz to park his rental car to face the oncoming wind so gales of gusts wouldn’t use them like sails to tear them off the hinges and have him going back to see Souranis.

Tinos is supposedly the birthplace of Aeolus, the Greek god who managed the violent storm winds, which needed to be respected. The advice: deep the doors closed and don’t touch the windows or your ears will pop.

It is the third-largest island in the Cyclades and has more than 60 villages, most inhabited and tucked into cliff sides facing the Aegean or in valleys and known as a foodies paradise as well as supposed healing miracles.

“We hoped Tinos would refresh us, that its restaurants would replenish us, that the rugged landscape would leave us blown away. We almost were,” he wrote, learning to open the car doors carefully, his wife and children safely behind the trunk.

Paddleboarders enjoy the sparkling Aegean Sea off Kolimbithra beach in the island of Tinos, Greece, on Aug.27, 2021. (AP Photo/Giovanna Dell’Orto)

“One morning, I had to take out the trash and the garbage bags swelled like sails, nearly lifting me off the ground. I imagined myself Icarus, floating across the island on plastic wings, dripping not wax but olive pits, capers and Nissos beer dregs into the sea,” he wrote.

Once you adjusted to the wind, the island offered great food and beaches and quaint villages and even an all-day bar, squares where locals greeted each other and ate breakfasts of yogurt or pancakes with a view of the sea.

Even the wineries take precautions against the wind, with agronomist Mary Skari, 28, telling him that, “The traditional method of growing grapes is to leave them close to the ground to protect them from the wind.” But this year, she said, the gusts were too extreme. “This is a bit too much,” she said.


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