Saturday, June 11, 2016

Whitewashed Mykonos

Mykonos is probably per capita the world's biggest consumer of white paint. At the very least, there must be a large shipment of whitewash to the Cycladic Islands in Greece each month. While not all houses on Mykonos are painted in the traditional whiter-than-white, white walls have become the standard since the 1930s, and it's what tourists have come to expect.

It was in the 1930s in fact when the Cycladic Islands began to enjoy the gift of tourism. Before that time, they endured the scourge of occupation, pillaging and ransacking--which was not so nice. The Venetians, though, left a nice mark on Mykonos in the much-photographed Little Venice.

The old town of Mykonos is now a maze of trendy bars, pricey clothing shops and restaurants where dinner might cost you a month's rent. Mykonos is known for attracting guests who can afford to pour a 600-euro bottle of champagne over their heads.

We're in the mood for a champagne bath, so we stop at one of these restaurants, try to take a peek inside. The conversation with the greeter goes something like this:

We start to enter (read barge in) just to have a look around because we, it seems, are cretins born in a barn.

The greeter blocks our way. "Have you visited us in London or Paris?" She's in her twenties. Her tan is perfect. Her smile is Mykonos white. She smells like spring.

"Um, probably," I say, pulling my arrogant face. "I've been to so many exorbitantly expensive places. It's hard to keep them all straight." I turn to Egbert the Armadillo Roller's Assistant. "Didn't we go there with Carl and Peter last summer? You know, when we poured the 600-dollar champagne on our heads?" I swoosh my head and pick up the menu. Cocktails start at 6000 euros and a finger of your choice. "Can we have a look around? Ambience is very important to us . . . if we're going to eat here instead of buying a car."

"Do you have a reservation?"

"Do we know how the ambience is inside?" I counter.

"Do you need to? We do have locations in London and Paris."

"So does McDonald's."

She laughs hysterically because I am so funny. And adorable.

"So, if I understand correctly, we can't have a peek inside."

"No."

The funny thing about these trendy restaurants in the old town of Mykonos is that they don't even have a view of the sea. You're not going to watch the sun set here. You might as well be in a restaurant in London or Paris. Same with most of the trendy bars.

Obligatory Photo of Little Venice, Mykonos
Obligatory Photo of Mykonos Windmills
There is (at least) one restaurant where the food is reasonably priced and good, where you can watch the sun set. It's Joanna's Niko's Place a short walk down to the sea from the old town of Mykonos. The first evening we eat there, we don't have a reservation, so we can't sit outside to watch the sun set. We like the food so much, however, that we make reservations to eat there the following evening. And it is definitely worth it.

The Sunset from Joanna's Niko's Place

Most people who visit Mykonos stay in their snazzy hotel, broil themselves at the pool, and prowl around the old town at night. Not us. We rent a car and explore the island. Egbert the Armadillo Roller's Assistant and I go hiking. Mykonos is one of those Greek islands that has very few trees. If you go hiking, remember to bring a hat and sunscreen. You'll be in the sun. The hills are covered in prickly vegetation that smells warm and heady, like curry and spices. It's the fragrance of joy. I know that sounds sentimental, but the air on Mykonos makes me happy. I could walk here for days.


The west of Mykonos is not exactly the safest place to drive. Many small secondary roads are gravel at best, crumbling off the side of the mountain at worst. As we travel the roads we have the feeling that countless building projects have been abandoned. Maybe victims of the 2008 real estate collapse? Most sources, though, say that Mykonos was spared the worst of Greece's financial crisis. The tourists have never stopped coming to Mykonos--at least that's the PR Mykonos gets.


The tourists herd to Paradise Beach and Super Paradise Beach. I'm not sure what's so super about Super Paradise Beach. Both beaches look pretty much the same, as if they're run by the same people. You can eat lunch at one of the moderately priced restaurants or eat the slop the self-service restaurants serve up. It's fairly basic fare. You'll have a more interesting trip if you get off the beaten path, get out of your car and breathe in the spiced air. 



But most tourists stay in Mykonos town where the air reeks of motorcycle exhaust and the houses are continually whitewashed. I couldn't help seeing this symbolically: that all the white is covering up the pain of a country in crisis. 

I must be off,
Christopher

PS: Have you entered the 2016 I Must Be Off! Travel Writing Competition? The deadline for submissions is July 31, 2016.

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Juked, Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Best of Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, Night Train, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK] blog, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel, and lots of other good places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.