LINDOS AND THE REAL THING  page 1 page 2, page 3

FEATURE by Willard Manus

The buses begin ganging up by mid-morning, glass-sheathed Pullmans piling one after the other into Lindos' small plaza, disgorging an occupying army of tourists. Many of them have been on a holiday blitzkrieg of the Aegean, one or two ports a day for 10 days. They show signs of battle fatigue. "Harry," one distressed woman calls over her shoulder, "have we been to Crete?" Soon the gabble of day-trippers fills the village. Much English, Scandinavian and German is heard, a little French, Italian and Russian. "Darling," the man says to his wife as they fight through the narrow, cramped streets, passing shop after shop overflowing with trinkets and postcards, snack bars offering Sizzling Hot Crepes and Atomic Hamburgers, "it's our anniversary. Would you like to go to another village and celebrate in an authentic Greek taverna?"

"Can't we find one here?"

"I don't know. All the restaurant signs are in English and I think they serve mostly English food."

"I still think we should stay. Maybe we'll get lucky and find the real thing."

There lies the nub of it: how to find the real thing in a village which has become one of the official beauty spots of the Aegean, on a par with Mykonos and Santorini. Lindos, a village of 500 souls when my wife and I first discovered it in 1961, now receives an average of 10,000 tourists a day. While most of them
depart by dusk, their numbers are matched by a second wave of visitors down on package holidays, living either in town or in high-rise hotels outside Lindos.

Some of these night-birds come to shop, taking advantage of cooler temperatures and late closing-hours, but most come to party. Lindos, a village which did not possess running water or electricity in 1961, can now boast of 40 bars and four discos. The action goes from happy hour till dawn, a non-stop carousel of drinking, dancing and making out. There is no Greek music to be heard, only the latest rap, techno and reggae. Retsina has given way to tequila, ouzo to Amstel. Ask for a Greek coffee and you'll be laughed out of the place.

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Mass tourism transformed Lindos in the early 80s. It was the third stage of a development process that had begun shortly after our arrival. In the 60s, Lindos began to attract artists who relished the village's preternatural beauty--a trinity of sea, sky and sand, topped by an acropolis older than the one in Athens. It didn't hurt either that houses rented for as little as ten dollars a month. And what houses they were, spacious villas dating back to medieval times, with walled-in courtyards and gardens, pebbled mosaic floors, high-arched rooms with painted ceilings, hand-carved sleeping platforms and cupboards.

Lindos had fallen on hard times under the Italians and Germans during World War Two. After the war many Lindians emigrated to the United States, Canada and Africa, leaving the village impoverished and in disrepair. Still, there was something unique and magical about it, perched on a hillside overlooking the eastern side of Rhodes. As Lawrence Durrell wrote, "Lindos is like a trumpet-call, beaten out in gold-leaf and vibrating across the blue airs of time."

The next group of foreigners to answer that trumpet-call were the rich, who arrived in numbers following the installation of water and electricity in the early 70s. Mostly Italians from Milan and Rome, they began buying up houses and restoring them with exquisite taste. Overseeing their work was the Greek National Archaeological Service, the Rhodes branch of which was headed by Gregoris Konstantinopoulos, who was instrumental in having Lindos declared an historical preserve, which meant no major changes could be made in and around the village without official approval. Konstantinopoulos fought to keep high-rise hotels out and prevented the villagers from building inappropriate houses and shops. Lindos' history, beauty and serenity were safe in his hands.

It was the political fall-out from the Junta period (1967-74) that eventually dislodged Konstantinpoulos' hold over the
village and led to the shocking changes of the 80s. Despite the fact that he had fought the Junta, especially in regard to a garish Phoenix symbol they wanted to erect in the platia, the leftist prime minister Andreas Papandreou fired Konstantinopoulos soon after taking office.

After him, the deluge. The charming, cobbled streets of the village were cemented over, villas dating back to the Crusades were chopped up into tourist cubicles, schlock shops opened everywhere, followed by bars and discos. All signs were in English to accomodate the "holiday-makers" down from Britain on cheap package deals. Lindos' beautiful beaches, including those in St. Paul's Bay where the apostle had once been shipwrecked, became an antipasto of umbrellas, pedal-boats, water-skiing, snack bars and "super- markets." Fishermen gave up their nets and opened kiosks instead, farmers swapped their plows for beach-chair concessions, carpenters became waiters, bartenders and chefs. Within a dozen years Lindos became honky-tonk, a party town, a machine geared up to separate tourists from their money, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

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The money wasn't peanuts, either. It rolled in and the Lindians invested it wisely, in land, houses, bars, shops, car rentals, travel agencies, boutiques and restaurants. By the mid- 90s Lindos had achieved the highest per capita income in Greece-- and with it, the highest birth-rate, 4.5 kids per family. The prosperity also allowed villagers to send their children abroad to study at first-rate universities.

Mass tourism has enabled the Lindians to live better than they ever had. Because of superior diet and vitamins, they are healthier as well and their children are taller and handsomer, a new breed, really. Today a town that used to have only one phone, the old crank-up kind, now boasts of computers, faxes, VCRs, and satellite dishes that can capture European and American TV.

The Lindians earned all of these things by dint of hard, resourceful work, with whole families and clans pitching in and sharing the proceeds.

Mass tourism exacts a price, though. Often it's an obvious one having to do with problems of sewage, garbage, traffic, parking, noise, blight and congestion. Sometimes it's hidden. Consider, for example, what it costs a country like Greece to cope with twelve million visitors a year. The more people who come, the more cars, buses, ships and planes are needed to transport them, with a whopping fuel bill on top of that. When you factor in damage to the environment, to cultural and historic sights, to aesthetic and traditional values, the balance sheet shows almost as much red ink as black.

Some Lindians have got the message. A Lindos Conservation Society has been formed and it is trying to exert pressure on the mayor and town council to change the village's frat-house lifestyle, curtail its bars and discos, enforce noise ordinances, bring back authentic tavernas and coffeehouses. If the movement succeeds, it will keep Lindos from being spoiled irrevocably--and make it possible for tourists to find The Real Thing.