Mine company’s headquarters, Megalo Livadi, Serifos. Panoramio photo by glavind.
by Andreas Economakis
Serifos is a beautiful little island, not 3 hours from Athens by boat. Rocky at first glance, one soon realizes that there is quite a bit of greenery hidden here and there, mostly in the craggy gorges and Lilliputian valleys. The island is deceptive. It has a ghostlike quality at times, the majority of visitors being Athenians who come only for the weekends. The real natives, a scant 600 or so, work as construction workers, shop-owners, municipal employees or fishermen. The rest are old folk.
Serifos’ once booming population and economy, both products of the island’s iron ore mining facilities, slowly disintegrated when the mines shut their doors in 1963. In the small village of Megalo Livadi, on the far side of the island, the German mining company’s neo-classical headquarters stand semi-dilapidated amidst a row of palm trees at the end of the seaside village’s only main road, a dirt road. Kind of like a spaceship that landed in the middle of nowhere, the “villa,” as the locals call the building, is too huge for the place and yet beautiful to look at. Chickens peck along the dirt road an the sandy beach in front of two solitary coffee shops, both devoid of customers in this once bustling mining town that must now have no more than 10 permanent inhabitants. Tourists tend to roll in with mouths agape, sensing that they’ve happened upon some sort of landscape conjured up by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or his Greek equivalent.
Next to the crumbling headquarters is a memorial to the four miners killed in a protest strike against the mining company in 1916. The miners died fighting for better work conditions and an 8-hour workday. During the strike, the despised owner George Groman suddenly ordered his thug-like foremen and a small group of gendarmes to open fire on the striking workers in order to get them to return to work. Four miners fell dead and scores more were wounded before bystander wives and workers picked up stones and counter-attacked, killing the armed detachment to a man and throwing all the bodies into the sea. A workers’ commune was proclaimed and set up but it was quickly thrown into disarray by the arrival of a French battleship. The French returned Groman to power on the condition that he accept the 8-hour workday.
When I first visited Serifos I had no idea this village existed, no idea Serifos was a mining island, no idea people had died here fighting for a bit of human decency. There is something mystical about Serifos, something hidden from the eyes. There’s an old sayin in Greece that wherever you dig, you will find the bones of brave ancestors. Serifos is no exception. People died on this island fighting for justice. The dirt and rocks have been soaked with blood. One gets the sense that the land has taken notice of this, that something important is stirring under the earth, deep in the island’s history. Call it a feeling, call it an energy. One definitely senses this energy when visiting Serifos. At least, I did.
A few summers ago, when I first set foot on the island, I wanted to be alone. I needed time to gather my thoughts after a long job and an even longer broken relationship. That desire lasted all of 10 minutes after I set foot on the port. All of a sudden I wanted to be social. Not yet aware of Serifos’ history or powerful energy, I attributed the change in my disposition to the brilliant white buildings, the crystal blue sky, the seagulls, the happy people riding on scooters, everything and everyone so very alive in the clean salty air.
Like most first-time visitors to Serifos, I had been deposited by the ferry on the busy side of the island, near the small hotels and bars and restaurants and boats and noise. I remembered that my cousin Anna had a summerhouse up in the mountain village of Chora. I called her up on her mobile, wondering if she was nude bathing on the island’s white sand beaches as I’d heard she liked to do. Anna was happy to hear from me and invited me up to her village for drinks right away.
The epidemy of a social creature, Anna was surrounded by a horde of lively people at the local café. I took to the new climate and crowd like a fish to water. I met Rachel, an English lawyer specializing in Romani law, with whom I would eventually develop a film on Kosovo Gypsies, a film we never made (if only someone would have given us the money…). I also met a couple from Manchester. He was a musician in a fairly successful band there. She was a teacher. She was gorgeous, simply stunning. I spent every minute I could with this English couple. Simply looking at her in her flowery see-through summer dresses made my heart skip a few beats.
On their last night on Serifos we all went out drinking. We were down by the port where all the bars are. Eventually the bars closed and we bought some beers and decided to go back up to Chora and catch the sunrise. As there were three of us and I was the only one with a bike, I offered to give them a ride, one by one, up to the village. She rode first. We rushed up the hill, she clinging onto me tightly. I could feel her warm body against my back, her soft thighs pressed against my legs. She rested her head close to my neck to shelter her eyes from the wind. Her breath sent shivers down my spine. I swear I could have ridden all night. I wanted to take her to the abandoned mining headquarters, to swim naked in the phosphorescent sea with her, to gaze at the yellow moon together as it slowly drifted against the pinhole black sky. At the fork in the road, I made a right and continued to Chora, to our original destination. Maybe if I’d made a left my life would be different now. Simple as that: right or left?
When we got to the village, it was all I could do to not kiss her.
But I rode back down for her boyfriend. Back up in the village we stumbled around the small, cascading white houses, which literally crawl up against each other like a Lego blocks. We were having fun jumping from one house to the next. We came across a big divide between two houses. Perhaps one could leap to the other side, but it would be suicidal. Especially with all the booze we had consumed. Her boyfriend had developed a macho attitude over the course of the night, perhaps sensing the turbulent chemistry between his girlfriend and me.
He announced that he was going to jump. His girlfriend pleaded with him to not do it. The more she pleaded, the more he wanted to jump. He took a few steps back and prepared himself for the death leap. I watched with baited breath. This musician was going to sacrifice himself at our feet, right there before the altar of our burgeoning love. He would surely die and I would end up in her arms, kissing her wet salty cheeks, sweaty skin and arms entwined, little children laughing, a house in the English countryside, summers in Greece, the trickle of cold ouzo gliding down suntanned skin as frothy blue waves washed over our tingling flesh, alive, together, eternal…
“Don’t do it man,” I yelped at the last moment. Why did I say that? He stopped and looked at me. “You’ll never make it. You’re way too fucked up,” I went on, my lips moving mechanically, some greater force controlling me like a puppet. His girlfriend stroked my arm in thanks and a flash of electricity rushed through me. My other self yelled, silently, desperately: “Jump, you English fuck. Jump!”
This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.
Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.