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Sunday, 01 November 2020

Hymn to Fourni, Greece: Goats, Honey, Octopus, Calm… and much more

Written by Donal Conlon
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The passengers struggle down, swaying on the rope ladder, rucksacks banging against the side of the ferry. They load awkwardly into a small boat which takes them – including me - to the pier. Big ferries from Piraeus had no docking facilities on the isolated, lovely, small island of Fourni in the eastern Aegean, but that was forty years ago. The disembarkation is much smoother this time round.

 

I first arrived in Greece fifty years ago, exhausted from a three-day train trip. I have liked it ever since: visited much of it, lived in it once, and come back every so often. It sent me off in a new direction for my life and I went eagerly. I am more tolerant of its faults than I am of my own.

 

Many of Greece’s island tourist destinations have changed radically but for those who don’t hanker after international cuisine or exotically-named cocktails, there are always islands to soothe urban nerves while absorbing the brilliant blue of an Aegean: one of them is Fourni. Both on the surface and underneath it remains quintessentially Greek, strongly attached to its traditions.

 

The main street is seductive; its narrow length is bordered on both sides by mulberry trees, their lower trunks painted white. Their branches meet overhead shading the street, but darts of golden sunshine get through. It is paved with irregular-sized, white-edged slabs of granite. Some small shops, a few coffee houses and a restaurant intermingle with the blue and white houses. Many old people, women - often in black - and men leaning their chins on the tops of their walking sticks, sit in front of their homes saluting passers-by: good morning, good afternoon - ‘kalymera, kalyspera’. I try some of my little Greek with them; they have the indulgence and time to listen. Elders continue to play a part in everyday life; there are no retirement homes here.

Main Street 1 1

Main Street 

A man, wheeling a barrow, comes down the street shouting “psaria fresca”: fresh fish, fresh fish.

 

At the top of the street the one and only square is a small beauty. It is shaded by a huge plane tree. The leaves are beginning to wrinkle and brown in October but everybody knows they will return with the spring as they have done for the last three hundred years.

Square 2 

Square 1

The delightful ‘kafenion’ facing the square is tiny inside; its walls are covered with framed and faded photos of family and long-ago village life. Its tables, some topped with Ikaria granite, are scattered about the square. Aspasia, also the name of Pericles’s wife, the founder of Athens, is the fifth generation of the family to run the business. I have a coffee sitting beside Aspasia’s grandmother who is talking to a friend: both are dressed in black. I remember her from long ago. The upper floor of the building, now boarded up, was the Turkish Police headquarters until 1912 when the island got its independence from Turkey - much later than mainland Greece; later it became the primary school of the village.

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Last modified on Sunday, 01 November 2020

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