An old gate remains unused out front of a house whose elderly owner died in 2003. (Photo by TNH)
ANALIPSI, Greece – Life starts early and ends late – very late – for many in this verdant mountain village in the western part of Greece, each hour of the day marked by the ringing of a church bell.
That’s every day, and during memorials by the loudly broadcast early morning sounds of services from another church under a sloping cemetery where the ages of the interred – 91, 92, 94, 102 – offer testimony to a way of life that got them that far.
And testimony of the village’s dilemma too: with many in that age-group and other elderly standing out as Analipsi ages without most of its young, who’ve moved 15 miles down the mountain to the bigger town of Thermo or Agrinion, or to Patras, Greece’s third-largest city, 45 minutes away.
In the 1950s, there was a population of around 2,000, with 252 students in the school on the side of a hill, a buzz at night in warm weather with people converging to talk because there was no electricity, or running water and almost all worked at farming.
Today there are about 184 people, but the town’s former President for 28 years, Kostas Glavas, said the numbers have dwindled over the generations and that as of 2017 more than 60 percent over the age of 55.
The numbers swell in the summer when former residents return from around Greece, the United States, Australia, and other countries, back for the smell and sights of where they grew up and to visit the graveyard of their ancestors.
Zephyrs cool the night even during heat waves of 110 degrees that blister Athens. The sounds are eternal – when there are any through the general serenity and silence that sits over the village like a bubble – chickens, goats, the tinkling of bells on goat herds, the rustling of leaves on forests of trees providing a green mantle everywhere.
It’s remote enough that during World War II even the Nazis, occupying villages and terrorizing Greece’s populace – didn’t get this far.
The way up from the city of Nafpaktos is a 45-minute test of nerves on a corkscrew road that takes you a few feet from the edges of cliffs. Memorials to those who didn’t make it mark many of the miles on the way up.
There are no traffic signals, no supermarkets, no police officers, no firefighters, no doctors or clinics, no movie theaters, no restaurants. The school closed 10 years ago because so many people moved away to cities there aren’t enough children and those of school age have to travel to Thermo, which has jurisdiction over the village and others in its prefecture.
Time seems to be forgotten in Analipsi, not just what hour of the day, but what day or month of year – or what year.
Electricity started coming in 1969 to modernize, but the view is ancient, overlooking the 61.26-square mile Lake Trichonida, the largest fresh water body in Greece, in the valley below.
The village, which grew from settlements that began during the Ottoman Occupation that ended in 1832, has a post-office substation and a couple of small tavernas where old men play cards, watch soccer, eat souvlaki, and drink cold beer and wait until they are taken to the cemetery.
It began to lose people in 1956 when poverty overcame too many and they went as far abroad as Australia. “Every family had an immigrant abroad somewhere,” Glavas said.
He was born here in 1944, a time when midwives delivered children by lanterns in old stone buildings. Apart from two years of military duty and two years working in Athens, he hasn’t left, returning after running into financial problems in the nation’s capital in 1960.
He thought: “I’d rather return to the village and be a shepherd and be my own master,” if he had to. He opened and ran a kafeneion from 1969-72 and a grocery and a meat store and, as President, helped bring electricity and running water.
“I came to love the village as much as my own family. I love the landscape and the people and nature and the freedom. I don’t want to be cooped up,” he said.
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