Kastellorizo Diary
FEATURE BY Mavis Manus

(In the early 1980s, my husband and I decided to spend part of the summer in the flyspeck Greek island of Kastellorizo, located in a far corner of the eastern Aegean. It proved to be a surprisingly rich and fascinating experience. Here are some excerpts from the diary I kept at the time.)
August 2. The ferry-boat Kalymnos, which was supposed to leave Rhodes at 3pm, departed at 4.15pm. Calm journey. At 8pm I walked out (slept fitfully most of the journey) to the fore deck. A school of dolphins was sighted, adults and pups, leaping and playing. Arrived at Kastellorizo at 9.30pm, found a ghastly rathole for the night and decided to leave on the next boat. At breakfast at the “International” we met Christifina, a Greek-Australian, and a Dutch girl who introduced us to Damian, whose family owned the Mavros Pension.

We moved in that afternoon and stayed there–in one room, toilet in the hall-- for the next six weeks.
Once we were settled, Will got out his spear gun and dove in Kastellorizo’s long, deep harbor looking for fish (half dozen wild oysters was his only catch) while I swam from the quay of the Hotel Megisti. That evening Christifina invited us to a party at Kosta’s, a fellow Greek-Australian, to celebrate the completion of his kitchen (after two years’ work). It was a ‘daiquiri’ party, very pleasant.
Lefteris Boyatzis, another Greek-Australian “Kazzie” (Kastellorizan descent), had an interesting story. During WW II, when the British army temporarily liberated Kastellorizo from Italian occupation, everyone on the impoverished island was evacuated. The inhabitants were sent to a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, then put aboard a ship bound for Australia. Sixty miles at sea, the ship was attacked by German aircraft. The bombardment was so severe that the islanders realized the ship would be sunk. Each family was told to appoint one member to be tossed overboard in a life-jacket in hope that he or she would be picked up by a passing vessel.

Lefteris was selected by his family. He was only three years old at the time and remembered being tossed over the side into a blazing sea. “But that’s all I remember,” he said. “The horror and the shock was so great that I have buried the memory of being rescued and what followed.”

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Sunday Aug. 4. Although there was an announcement that a caique would go to the Blue Grotto (local tourist attraction) at 8.30 a.m., no one showed up. Another fisherman, Yorgo, said his rubber dinghy could fit six people. The grotto is impressive, as blue as a periwinkle and as high as a cathedral.

Later that day a tour boat from the nearby Turkish port town of Kas arrived. Much slapping on the back, “yassou, habibi” and breaking out of Johnny Walker. Later we discovered that an internecine battle was being fought on Kastellorizo over the tour boats. Varvara, a middle-aged woman with a powerful bass voice and body to match, wanted a monopoly on the day trips to Turkey and made such a fuss that the police closed down the business altogether.

Christifina invited us to a “Pimms Party” with ‘The Gang,’ on the road up to the Crusader fortress commanding a panoramic view of the town, nearby islets and Turkish coast. We ate at Sophia’s Taverna near a hilltop church: butter beans and her specialty, revithika-keftedes (chick-pea patties).
Monday Aug. 5. Discovered that there was a town library, but were told we could only read the handful of books on the premises! Went to Pavlos, the town clerk, who gave us immediate permission to borrow some desperately-needed reading matter.

I spent the afternoon at the Megisti and Will fished: wild oysters and a small grouper. Damian’s father cooked the fish for us; Will opened the oysters and, together with horiatiki (village salad) and retsina, we enjoyed a perfect dinner.

Sunday Aug. 10. Met a woman in black, Anna Hadziyannakis, who said she had a recurring vision of Saint Nikolaos, who asked her to search for an ikon. She searched for five years and one day while on Kastellorizo discovered a piece of paper. It was charred at the edges but when held up to the light revealed the outlines of an ikon. She then sold her business in New York, returned to Kastellorizo and devoted her life to the restoration of St. Nikolaos church.

Christifina said, “I wish I had half Anna’s faith. People think she’s daft, having visions, but they said that about Jesus!”

I attended a fund-raising tea at the Mavros Pension, where there were many varieties of local pastries, cakes, scones and quiches. Eva, “The Nightingale of Kastellorizo,” lip-synched to the songs on her cassette.

That evening we went down to the harbor to meet the weekly boat from Rhodes. A couple got off, took one look at the village with its many grand but ruined villas and got right back on the boat again! Another young couple were prevented from leaving by the Harbor Police for carrying a few shards of ancient Greek pottery. They were finally allowed to board and the boat departed, only to come to a halt in mid-harbor and return to the dock. Athens had ordered the Harbor Master to arrest the kids and escort them to Rhodes. We later learned that they were sentenced to five years in prison!

Sunday Aug. 24. We met a brother and sister who had emigrated to Perth, Australia (where tens of thousands of Kazzies reside), leaving behind the key to their house with Varvara for safekeeping. When they returned to the island a few years later, Varvara refused to give them the key. The owners had to spend the next two months in Rhodes applying for a court order that would allow them to enter their own home.

More on Varvara. Her son, aged 14, illegally took a bunch of tourists to Kas in the family caique. When the police attempted to arrest him, Varvara bellowed, “If you touch my son, I’ll burn down half of Kastellorizo!” The police turned around and slunk back to their barracks.

Varvara wasn’t finished. Because her husband hadn’t cleaned the pension they owned, she confronted him on the waterfront and, with the whole town watching, threw a broom at him, screaming, “Sweep or die, you masturbator!”