CULTURE

A savvy author writing on a subject he knows intimately

The Rough Guide series has long stood out from the ever-expanding field of guidebooks as a beacon for travelers seeking depth and detail in a manageable format. The latest edition of «The Rough Guide to the Dodecanese and East Aegean Islands,» by Marc Dubin, is an example of the series at its best – a perfect fit of savvy author with a subject he knows intimately. Dubin, who makes his home in Greece for part of the year, writes about the place and its people with wit and affection. A keen walker and scuba diver and a professional photographer, he also knows his way round the history, language, music and cuisine of Greece. With insight into the Greek perspective and an understanding of what visitors need to know, Dubin is accurate, outspoken and fun to read – whether discoursing on Modern Greek politics, advising which creepy-crawlies to avoid or listing the names of edible fish in English and Greek. An acute observer who has Greece’s welfare at heart, Dubin’s observations are worth hearing. Kathimerini English Edition asked him about the changes he has seen during his research and where an indefatigable traveler chooses to go for his holidays. You’ve been familiar with the Dodecanese for a long time. What major changes have you seen and are any of them improvements? Many of the changes – like better roads and telecoms – apply just as much to locals as tourists, but the latter benefit as well. The range of choice when eating out has improved no end – and a good thing. When people are paying 15-30 euros for a meal instead of 1,500-1,800 drachmas like a few years ago, their expectations are going to be a lot higher. The same can be said for accommodation; there are far more imaginative restoration inns/boutique hotels (again at a price) and less of the mosaic-floored boxes that we had in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, in terms of transport, we seem to be treading water or going backward; ferry frequencies to small islands like Astypalaia and Tilos are worse than they were a decade ago, and if Olympic goes bust and is not «restructured» in such a way as to fill the holes in routes, island-hopping in the Dodecanese will pretty much be a thing of the past. I defy anyone to, for example, visit Tilos and Nissyros from either Kos or Rhodes within the space of 5-6 days – allowing 2-3 days on each island – and return to «base» successfully. Even in August. The other thing that has struck me on my most recent research trips is the degree to which places like Rhodes Old Town, Lindos, Olymbos and Molyvos on Lesvos are disfigured by ranks and ranks of tatty souvenirs. It seems to be getting worse by the year, pushing out any sort of genuine commerce. It also doesn’t seem to have occurred to the folk in this trade that if they make something attractive, and genuinely local, like a handwoven woolen bag priced at 10 euros, instead of selling three items made in Taiwan or some stupid T-shirt for three euros, they’ll make the same money, even selling less volume, and outsiders will carry away a much more positive impression of the place. Why try harder? On the subject of tatty souvenirs, why do you suppose shopkeepers keep serving them up? I suspect it’s at least partly due to the fact that people are not trained for the field they work in. I think the cause of the tatty souvenirs is similar to why there’s so much bad taverna food about in resorts – it’s the path of least resistance, and many proprietors have a thinly disguised contempt for their punters, and think that if they’re so dim as to not be able to detect, or care about, prepackaged Belgian chips and woolly miniature donkeys made in China, why should they (the shopkeepers) try any harder? Client and shopkeeper come as a matched set. I have confronted taverniares on this, and they insist their diners WANT McCain’s oven chips, and tinned veggie flecks in the oily rice, etc. And yes, the fact that anyone can set up shop without personal qualifications doesn’t help. To what extent to do you think your own guidebooks have been instrumental in bringing about change, perhaps by encouraging more people to visit? Hoteliers and restaurateurs frequently report people showing up with copies of my book(s) in hand, but I don’t flatter myself that my writing has the power to change the nature of destinations or influence decisions by tourism honchos. One of my titles sells somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 copies per year, and some of those people may decide not to go to the place I describe after reading. Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of arrivals per annum, mostly on charter packages, to a destination like Rhodes or Crete, most of whom read no guidebook at all. I have, for instance, long championed shoulder-season/off-season tourism, but it seems that seasons are getting shorter and shorter and off-peak infrastructure (ferries, etc, as noted above) getting more and more user-hostile. Do you ever feel the temptation to keep some favorite place to yourself? Regularly; there are secluded beaches, for instance, on almost every island which are never in any guidebook of mine, and certain kafenia or bars which are clearly the last refuge of the locals stay out of coverage as well. What kind of places do you visit for pleasure, or is travel always at least partially work? Mostly the latter, so when I do go on «hols» it’s somewhere I haven’t the least interest in writing about (but I may take pictures, as I did in Cuba).