By Vasso Chrysostomidou
“I arrived at Antiparos for the first time by chance, before it became popular among Scandinavians. My first memories of Antiparos are dominated by a feeling of absolute serenity and the strong smells of thyme and oregano. This island was exactly what I had been looking for,” says David Frazer Wray, an author, translator and photographer who has been visiting Antiparos for the last 32 years. His wife, Kjersti Varang, is a Norwegian criminologist.
“They were youngsters. But they grew up, made money and had children. They are beautiful, tanned and they are usually dressed in white,” said one of the locals seated around the huge eucalyptus tree in the village's main square, immortalized by celebrated Greek actress Aliki Vougiouklaki in the 1960 comedy drama “Madalena.”
Just after Norwegian schools close for the summer around July 20, large groups flock to Antiparos, effectively transforming the island into a Norwegian ‘colony.’
“After they leave in August the island feels empty,” says another local.
“I met David on Antiparos and we had our honeymoon on the island nine years ago. If you visit Sinioris's tavern you will see a photograph from our wedding hanging on the wall,” says Varang, an Antiparos regular since 1986.
“An entire generation of Norwegians grew up here. At first we just wanted the sun and the sea. But then we became friends with the locals. This is the main reason we still come to Antiparos. We keep in touch with them in the winter through Facebook,” Frazer Wray says.
Graphic designer Brita Bergsnov-Hansen and her husband Tom Lorentzen, who works in marketing, have been visiting Antiparos for the past 18 years along with their four sons. Like a large number of fellow Scandinavians they have purchased a summer home on the island.
“Every time my boat arrives at Antiparos my first order of business is to say hello to all of my friends. I arrive home several hours later,” says the sunburnt Norwegian happily. “We come here Easter, every autumn for the potato holiday and for six or seven weeks every summer.”
Bergsnov-Hansen and Lorentzen discovered Antiparos through Norwegian travel columnist Jan Bergtun, who has traveled all over Greece. The island seemed perfect for a family holiday.
“When we started coming our children were very young. The village was safe and there were no cars. Our 6-year-olds would go into the village to buy ice cream all by themselves and we did not have to worry about them. Captain Tassos would organize boat tours around the island and he would take our youngest son with him as an assistant. He was the ideal babysitter!,” remembers Bergsnov-Hansen.
But the Scandinavian tourists also work hard for the island during their holidays.
“In Norwegian we have the term ‘dugnad,’ which means helping others without pay. This is what we do on Antiparos. We clean the castle for the annual photography festival and we help organize it,” says Frazer Wray. The Norwegian hand in several local events is obvious. Every year the island's sailing club organizes a three-day sports festival in Aghia Marina, which includes swimming, cycling and running competitions as well as a parade. Clad in ecologically friendly fabrics, the Scandinavians are a permanent fixture at all events.
Four years ago, Bergsnov-Hansen and Lorentzen established an annual tradition on the occasion of their joint 50th birthday which has become known as the White Party.
“We invited 80 friends from Norway and many Greeks. The first day we organized a beautiful beach party at Faneromeni. Petros, the island's baker, supplied us with fresh bread. The next day the party was transferred to the Antiparos open-air cinema, while on the final evening we sailed around the island. Since then everyone on Antiparos looks forward to our party. They ask each other: ‘Are you going to Brita and Tom's White Party?,” says Bergsnov-Hansen.
The open-mindedness of the locals on Antiparos is another positive factor.
“Our eldest son is gay and he comes here with his boyfriend. This is perfectly fine because the locals accept people as they are,” says Bergsnov-Hansen. “There is no Golden Dawn [the Greek far-right party] in Antiparos. This party is very harmful to the country's reputation. But whenever we read a negative comment about Greece on social media the least we can do is express our disapproval.”
“Does Antiparos have a place in your heart?” I ask Lorentzen. “It's my home and no matter where I go I will always end up here,” he says. “The Greek poet George Seferis said that a person has two homes, his place of birth and the one he chooses. I have chosen Antiparos.”
David Frazer Wray has created a website featuring photographs of Antiparos on Facebook (www.antiparosphotogallery.com). Through the website, which currently counts approximately 2,500 members from around the world, he organized a photography competition with the winner exhibiting their work on the island.
The project came to fruition after Frazer Wray met with photographer Mary Hatzaki, an Antiparos resident since 2002 and owner of the Anti Gallery.
“David came to find me, introduced himself and talked about his website. He had been looking for a place to exhibit the photographs of the competition's winner. I invited him to use my new art gallery and I shared with him my dream of creating a photography festival on Antiparos,” says Hatzaki.
With the support of 15 photographers and the Magnum agency, the second edition of the Antiparos Photo Festival took place on July 4-13. The event was put together online by Frazer Wray and Varang in Norway, photographer Yannis Bagourdas in Athens and Hatzaki on Antiparos.
“The Norwegians were very helpful; they painted and cleaned the castle and cleared it of trash. The photographs were exhibited on the street and outside walls of houses. Images of Antiparos from the 60s and 70s by Irini Sioti were on display inside the gallery,” notes Hatzaki.
“Last year we made 700 euros, which went to the local school. I believe they replaced the classroom windows to keep warm during the winter. We hope to do the same with this year's proceeds as well,” says Frazer Wray.