Leros: Island of Artemis

When I lived on Leros in 1974 during the Cyprus Crisis, the locals referred to Lakki not as Art Deco, but as Mussolini Modern.

Another memory from Leros was the number of Greeks my age, born in caves, for after the Italians backed away from the Axis and their occupation duties, the Germans bombed the island with Stutkas relentlessly, as I recall hearing, for over 40 days. Indeed, Leros has rather fjord-like characteristics; Lakki, or Porto Lago, is apparently the deepest port in much if not all of the Mediterranean.

Speaking of the latter, Churchill allegedly called Leros, «the martyr» of the Aegean.

The people of Leros were uniquely Greek, with a cordiality and generosity which made me incredulous.

When [Constantine] Karamanlis returned to Athens, and the news arrived, the island became very festive. It was forbidden to speculate on the news or listen to the BBC, but all Leriots seemed to know.

I was slated to have lunch with my soon-to-be ex-wife, and the ex-chef of King Farouk, who would cook for us. There were many ex-Egyptian Greeks on Leros then, and parts of the island, such as Aghia Marina, were not unlike regions along the Nile. My soon-to-be ex-wife’s father had dined with Farouk and was a friend of the chef, so a grand meal was promised.

Due to a bottle of White Horse whisky, and the return of democracy to Greece, and the need to ride a bicycle many kilometers, and the heat, I paused en route to lunch, having spied a lovely kafenion on a bluff above the sea.

I parked the bicycle, and entered. I took a table beneath a grape arbor and ordered a fresh lemon from a charming elderly woman.  I noted the temperature on a beer company tin thermometer, scribbled in a journal, and then fell asleep for several hours.

When my then-wife arrived, furious on the back of a Vespa, I welcomed her inside the garden and tried to calm her down, banging on my empty glass until the yia-yia came out and took her order. Some minutes later, when I asked for the check, as my soon-to-be ex-wife was still angry and urgent, the yia-yia looked at me angelically, and said «Kyrios, this is not a kafenion. This is my home.”

I don’t know about Leriots of antiquity, but the modern ones overwhelmed me then as they still do today.

George Dillon Slater