Somewhere Else

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Attention, lovers of Greek island life.

SOMEWHERE ELSE tells the heart-warming story of a Canadian couple overcoming all kinds of obstacles to make a new life for themselves on the north-eastern-Aegean island of Ikaria. Written by Alex Morton, the book paints an in-depth portrait of Ikaria, “a ripe, little island, with beehives in the hills and wild goats in the mountains. In ancient times, there was no sign of villages or even houses if you were looking from a boat, but there were people, and wine, and olives.” Today, the islanders are famous for their health and longevity.

Named after Ikarus, the fabled Greek character who took a nosedive when his wax wings melted, Ikaria has always had a proud, independent history. In 1912, for example, the island severed its ties with the Ottoman empire and became a nation of its own. “Eventually, circumstances forced Ikaria to become part of Greece,” Morton writes. “But while Ikarians consider themselves Greek, they still regard themselves as Ikarian first and view other Greeks as Xeni, foreigners.”

Alex and his wife Mina had spent time on the island back in the sixties, but that was mainly to visit her relatives. Much as they loved Ikaria, settling there permanently was not in their plans. This changed when the brokerage house handling their finances get caught up in the 2008 Wall Street debacle and nearly went broke. On top of that, Mina was diagnosed with breast cancer and the house they were renting was sold.

With the world crumbling around them, they decided to pack up and start afresh on Ikaria, if only because Mina owned a house there. “It was pretty rough, but at least it was our own pile of rubble and there wouldn’t be any rent. There was a lot of land with it as well, with plenty of space to grow food and lots of olive trees. But fifty years of neglect had left the land covered in such a dense tangle of heavy thorns and thick bushes that most of it was inaccessible,” Morton relates.

Most of SOMEWHERE ELSE deals with the Mortons’ struggle to build a road, repair the house, clear the land, put in water and electricity. They also had to cope with Greek bureaucracy, IKEA, an infestation of scorpions and ants, plus the threat of fire and earthquakes. Fortunately, Alex came from tough stock with at least a rudimentary knowledge of farming, construction and plumbing. The Mortons were also lucky enough to have relatives and friends who were generous with help and advice.

Best of all was Greek island life, which offered a warm, clear-blue sea, savory fresh food, music pulsing in the tavernas and bars. Although they lived without TV or computers, they filled their free time with picnics, weddings and baptisms, long, bracing walks in the hills, olive-picking, laughter and reading. Best of all, Mina’s health improved; Ikaria had worked its therapeutic magic on her.

Not only that, the Canadian government finally took action on behalf of devastated bank shareholders like the Mortons. Their funds were returned to them–-plus interest.

It’s a welcome ending to a tempest-tossed story.