Bones In The Sea - Time Apart On A Greek Island

Feature by Willard Manus

It was Lawrence Durrell who coined the word "islomaniacs" to describe those people who are drawn, sometimes against their will, to spend time apart on some island or other. Only another islomaniac can understand the power islands can exert on the mind and heart of man, the way they can inspire feelings of love, contentment and belonging.

Andrew Horton is just such an islomaniac. Teacher, author, screenwriter, Horton is a man of many talents, a person whose work has taken him to numerous cities around the world. But always, when he can, he returns to his true home, the place he cares for most--the Greek island of Kea, in the far corner of the Cyclades.

Now Horton has written a book about Kea, BONES IN THE SEA (Smyrna Press), an island he first discovered in 1966, when he was twenty-one. "I was fresh out of college with a degree in literature and about to try out my first teaching job," he writes. "Viet Nam was turning ugly, Bob Kennedy and Martin Luther King had yet to die and the Beatles' music had taken Greece by storm while Greeks were much more reserved about the international subculture of drugs, sex, rock 'n roll under Aegean sunshine that was developing on the islands."

Flash-forward two decades. Horton, now married (for the second time; his first wife was Greek) and the father of a two-year-old son, returns to Kea on a six-month sabbatical from his university position in New Orleans. BONES IN THE SEA is the result of that prolonged stay on the island, in the mountain village of Chora where friends had found him a small, newly finished--well, half-finished--house.

The building lacked a few doors and windows, not to speak of a pull-plug toilet, but the Hortons not only stuck it out but made light of it, proving themselves to be the opposite of the usual Ugly American tourist prototype. Thanks to his knowledge of Greek (he has taught in Athens, translated Greek poetry and plays) Horton was able to connect with the islanders in an intimate fashion few foreigners have been able to experience.

Horton captures the essence of the Keans in a chapter describing the first religious festival he attended with his family. Because it was a big panayiri, one that ordinarily would have triggered high spirits in the villagers, the Hortons expected to enjoy not just copious food and drink but exuberant singing and

dancing. Instead they found the platia "full of happy but subdued folks." Conversation was lively, "but no one had yet felt moved to clear away a few tables and dance."

Down through the ages, the Keans have always been known as a reserved people. As Horton comments, "even Aristophanes in one play states a character should act 'not like someone from Chios but from Keos (the ancient name for Kea).'" This, however, was taking reserve to a ridiculous end. It wasn't until morning, though, that he could fathom the reason for this mysterious turn of events.

Because the village's musicians had opted to play, for more money, at a seaside disco that night, the people of Hora had registered theiur disapproval by refusing to dance to the tunes of outside musicians. The home band's "betrayal" was reason enough for the locals to reign in their spirits and sulk the night away.

BONES IN THE SEA is packed with such revealing and juicy details like that. Written in an impressionistic rather than linear fashion--the author likens his technique to an offering of pikelea, the hors d'oeuvres served with drinks in a Greek cafe. "The book took its own shape and logic and rhythms, surprising me time and time again, and insisting on fictional elements to be woven in with and among actual happenings. Neither diary nor novel, screenplay nor sociological study nor autobiography, it is truly an offering of pikelea."

BONES IN THE SEA is above all a finely observed and deeply felt portrait of the island of Kea. It is teeming with memorable characters: not just the Hortons themselves but such typical islanders as Yannis the shopowner, Argiris the tavernkeeper, and two 70-year-old sisters, Poppy and Armarande, the epitome of Greek warmth, intelligence and hospitality.

The book also benefits from the pen and ink illustrations of Lisa Rose and Lou Efstathiou.

"To sail the Aegean murmuring the names of the islands is the greatest joy that sinks the heart of man into paradise," wrote Nikos Kazantzakis. The next greatest joy is to read a book like BONES IN THE SEA.