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Jacques Laccariere about Greek islands

18-06-2017 11:41

There are more than 1,360 Greek islands. Many are just bare rocks, home to a few seagulls. Others are a little bigger but have no water or other resources. They too are uninhabited, except by wild goats and seals. I have been to many of these small islands and always come away with the same feeling of having lived for a few hours like one of my great childhood heroes, Robinson Crusoe. I feel like that even if I know lots of other people have been there before me.

I would sit on an outcrop a few metres above the sea, amid bushes of thyme and oregano buzzing with bees, and watch fishing boats and yachts pass in the distance. They could not see me. Mocking, crabby-sounding gulls wheeled above me, staring and shrieking at me, even louder when I went near their nests. Their agonized cries always sound like the laments and entreaties of desperate people, which explains the old Greek belief that these creatures were actually people changed into gulls as a result of a curse.

There is nothing imaginary about these little islands, but their unusual, unexpected or odd appearance and the danger they represent for sailors must have won them an aura of uncertainty and mystery from the earliest times. People also wonder why some more than others among the hundreds of islands in the Aegean Sea have given rise to enduring legends of Greek folklore.

Take Anaphi, a small volcanic islet between Crete and Santorini whose name, already known in ancient times, means "island of revelation". It has practically no vegetation and just a port and a village and a single spring. The island reputedly rose up out of the sea on the orders of Apollo to give refuge to the Argonauts caught in a night-time tempest.

Legend says the Argonauts saw the island when a huge flash suddenly lit up the whole sky and revealed it to them. The same kind of thing is said about many islands in the Mediterranean and in all seas in volcanic areas of the world - islands that suddenly rise up and then disappear as quickly as they came, but are never forgotten...

Lacarriere, Jacques
Unesco Courier Dec. 1997, Islands, a world apart