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James Prineas

September 2006

Back from the Roots

Dear Friends of Kythera,

we have a really special newsletter this month which includes moving articles by Crissouli and a new contributor: Wilma Allex from Austria, who spent a winter on Kythera in 2005. And don't forget our 10,000th entry competition - more details can be found at the bottom of this mail.

Take 38 Diaspora Kytherians, lock them in the Kythera Town Hall for 6 hours and what do you get? An enormous amount of knowledge-exchange. This year’s "Discover Your Roots” meeting on August 12. saw a great mixture of people from 3 continents learn more about the island in a few hours than most of us do in a month on the island. As usual, the participants themselves, in recounting their family histories and their experiences on the island, provided a colourful start to the proceedings. A special highlight this year was a tour of the Castro Archives and the Church of St. Theodore by high-school-teacher, folk-singer and heritage professional Eleni Harou, who sacrificed her midday break to give us a fascinating insight into the history of the island and the archives. She also helped many of the group de-cypher Venetian census data. We intend to repeat the event next year so make sure you’re on the island in mid-August 2007! I'll be uploading audio files of the gathering to the Discover Your Roots area of the site so take a look on Monday and they should be audible online.
James Prineas, Berlin ([email protected])

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Prime Minister of Australia to open World Congress of Kytherians -
Canberra 15-17 September 2006

2nd International Symposium of Kytheraismos

All Kytherians and Philo-Kytherians are invited to attend the 2nd International Symposium of Kytheraismos – A world gathering of Kytherians to be held in Canberra from the 15th to the 17th of September 2006.

The symposium is to be officially opened by The Honourable John Howard MP, Prime Minister of Australia on the morning of Friday 15th September.

The theme of this year’s Symposium is the Globalisation of Kytheraismos (in essence the endeavours, philosophy, identity and culture of Kytherians). At this stage we expect to have a full agenda of speakers and many attendees from Sydney, Canberra, Interstate and Greece. The event promises to be a spectacular Kytherian event.

On the Friday and Saturday, morning and afternoon tea will be served with a light lunch and a morning tea on Sunday. It is expected that the costs for this will be fully subsidised by the Institute of Kytheraismos. Registration for the event is free.

There will be no requests for any donations or money for any cause.

On the Saturday evening there will be a Celebration Dinner Dance which will cost $45 per head. For Friday night and Sunday lunch the Hellenic Club has 3 Dining Facilities where you can eat at your own cost.

All who register at the Symposium on the Friday before the official opening will be invited to the Greek Embassy for a Cocktail Party on Friday night and will have the opportunity to meet the newly appointed Ambassador.

Those wanting to participate and attend this event should contact:

Chris Lourandos -Canberra 02 6254 7320 (ah)
Vicki Londy – Brisbane 07 3397 7260
Victor Kepreotis – Sydney 0408216108
Spiro Coolentianos - Sydney 0418213990
Kathy Samios – Sydney 9349 1849

Accommodation is available in Canberra at a discounted rate at the Quality Hotel in Woden (nearby to the Hellenic Club)
Tel: 1800 800 891 
(You must quote group booking number 53471)
$140/night standard room, $180/night 1 bedroom suite. Breakfast is available at extra cost.

Deluxe coach travel from Sydney will be organised depending on whether there is sufficient demand.

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“What will be mine, Nan?” An innocent question from a six year old...
“What do you mean, what will be yours?”
“When you live in Heaven instead of this house, what will be mine?”
We'd often chatted about what would be hers ‘one day’ as we dusted or put things away, or even as we shared morning or afternoon tea. I’m sure my granddaughter will remember using beautiful china with special times with Nan, much more than she will recall seeing lovely things in a cupboard. So we use the best china, on a handworked linen cloth, perhaps embroidered by me, or maybe by her great great grandmother. Nothing has been broken, without the need for constant warnings. I just tell her and my four year old grandson to take care, as these things will be theirs one day.

The question was repeated and became a game. “Will this be mine?” “No, that will be your brother’s.” “What about this?” and so it went on. I took a key off the peg on the wall and asked her what it was. She said it was for my grandfather’s house. Almost right. The key belonged to the lock of the office Papauli built, in the house he built. She’s heard the story many times before, but like all children, loved the repetition. So began a morning of memories. I showed her the family photos and she picked out my grandfather, then we looked at the key and the suitcase.

The case isn’t very large, about the size of what we would call an overnight bag. It was this beautiful, leather case, heavy with it’s wooden frame and still in perfect condition, that Papauli brought all he had to Australia from Kythera in 1904. He scratched his initials on the brass locks, whether with pride or for security, I’ll never know. What did he pack? He was from the village of Potamos, newly married. A farmer, trying to eke out a living in what was virtually a barren land. Australia must have seemed like the Promised Land. I was only five when he died, too young to know the questions to ask, those I would like to now. He was a very proud, hard working man, like so many of his fellow Kytherians. Perhaps a clean shirt or two, maybe some extra trousers, a razor and other essentials. Something from home as a keepsake. Was this what he packed, as he prepared to leave the land of his birth? How do you do that, head off to an unknown land, knowing that in all likelihood, you will never see your family again? Not your parents, nor your four siblings. The only time he’d left home before was when he was a guard at The Greek Palace in Athens, but this was certainly different.

At 26 years old, with determination, sadness, memories and courage, he left his young wife and sailed to the other side of the world. So began the journey that took him first to a cafe in Sydney, run by fellow Greeks, then after learning all he could, he saved whatever he could manage and eventually, some years later, brought his wife out from Kythera to join him. When she was pregnant with their first child, to be a boy, they moved to the Lismore area, to try their luck at farming. From there, to Bellingen, where two more children were born. Here, this young man ran a cafe in conjunction with a cousin, then later moved to
Aberdeen, in country NSW, and more farming.

And more children. Six in all, but one lost at a very early age. Before Aberdeen, his wife had planned a visit back home to Kythera, with three young children. That trip was never to be, as she gave birth in Perth to another daughter, her second.

I told all this to my granddaughter, then told her how the last move for this family, including her much loved Great Grandad, was to the mid north coast of NSW. She rubbed the suitcase with her tiny hands and told me that if I don’t need the suitcase to go to Heaven in a very long time away, she would look after it for my grandfather and then tell her granddaughter where it came from.
Crissouli © 2006, ([email protected])

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(Stunning pictures to accompany this article can be found at /download/Wilma )

Let me say in advance: I’m neither Greek nor Australian. But within the past 25 years I have been to many of the Greek islands, so I was not a beginner when my affair with Kythira started.

Lipon... My first visit to Kythira came in Sept. 2002 to stay for a holiday-week in Kapsali. I had fallen in love with the post-card view of Hora a few years ago - and my love was not disappointed. Already in November fate took me back for five weeks: picking olives in Kato Hori, staying in an old house next to the ruins of the ancient castle in Kato Hora. In 2003 I spent three summer months on the island: first in Hora on a job and later privately near Karavas. During this time I met hospitable and interesting locals as well as foreign house-owners and visitors. These encounters gave me the opportunity to hear stories of their lives, of emigration, repatriation or immigration as well as to learn about Kythiran life, habits, history, architecture and nature. Friendships developed, I was caught by the Kythira-virus.

When in autumn 2004 I got the chance to house-sit an acquaintance’s residence over the winter, people tried to advise me against spending a winter on the island. They warned me of storms, the cold, the humidity (igrasia), the poor quality of houses, the lack of “civilisation”, the underdeveloped medical services and, worst of all, the solitude I would have to endure in this secluded area without any neighbour or companion for months. But I have a stubborn personality and was determined to go!

Winters on Kythira are much like a roller-coaster of extremes - sometimes fierce rain-storms, bleak and frustrating. Days when you wake up with the sinking feeling of loneliness and a kind of damp cold you’ve never experienced before. Days on which you want to stay in bed all day. Romantic ideas of island life are quickly dispelled. Yet there are also numerous days of tranquility and sunshine. On days like those I would roam alone along deserted beaches in search of driftwood and other little treasures, spellbound by the crashing waves, lost in reveries. Or going on day-long drives of discovery with my best friend who showed me some very special places. Days when I hiked alone exploring secret little chapels by the sea, hidden old water-mills, long deserted settlements laced with stone walls, fields and terraces bearing silent witness to a once prosperous time, telling stories about former life’s hardship. The rugged wave tossed coasts, river-worn valleys and most of all the ever changing faces of the elements and nature were absolutely fascinating. One becomes very aware of the fact that Kythira’s nature and history are interlocked; one realises why so many people went away.

I won’t soon forget the days when howling winds with driving rain forced me to stay inside all day, shutters and doors closed tight. Sitting close to the kitchen’s wood stove for warmth, asking myself and my faithful feline companion: "What am I doing here?" I will always remember the moonrises in a starry sky that left me searching for appropriate words (only the desert sky can compare to it). Colourful sunsets and sunrises that took my breath away, the absolute silence when the wind and the sound of a hawk’s wings gliding above my head was all to be heard. Unobstructed vistas towards the Peloponnese, the sea either a tranquil dazzling blue or in a frenzy of froth. Huge vessels passing by like trains, at night the cruise boats giving me the vision of illuminated skyscrapers. The threatening black sky, ready to collapse, which forewarned a thunderstorm (and many times a power failure for hours) - and in the aftermath of this fury, a rainbow glowing in the increasing silence.

In January and February nature explodes in lush, colourful and charming beauty, the air heavy with sweet scents of the yellow-flowered shrubs, the fields dotted with white, red and lilac flowers, the terraces underneath the olive trees carpeted in snowy white by thousands of margaritas, the birds cheerfully singing and chirping again. What a pleasure and relief this was after a frustrating cold and dark period which limited my radius and taking big chunks from my energy!

From March on the grass and weeds start growing like mad, to an extent I’d never considered to be possible; a bit later hordes of big black flies as well as all kind of grasshoppers and the always hungry locust arrived to invade the countryside, trying to eat everything I’d planted in the veggie garden.

As soon as the heat sets in - in late June - the cicadas start their deafening concert, an almost never ending cacophony - yet, for me THE proof of a Mediterranean area. Unfortunately, with the burning heat every move becomes a torture, real work becomes a problem. How I admired the local people who patiently kept tending their amazingly flourishing "horafia" in the heat while I needed to push myself to go outside during the day; even to drive to a beach for a swim seemed to be too much trouble. I guess the summer season is really made for tourists who enjoy for a few weeks the burning sun, the beaches, the tavernas, the change of environment.

I must admit that in July 2005 I was looking forward to a change from the Greek heat to the bearable Austrian summer temperatures. It was still a sad and moving thing to say good-bye to the people and places I loved, to the house and the cat who became so familiar to me.

But what a mix of impressions and adventures I carried in my baggage:

Again I had picked olives and helped prune olive trees in Agia Anastassia (always good for my body and mind), experienced my first Christmas service in Greece, the carnival, the annual parish fair at Agio Theodoro, celebrated another Greek Easter (this time with public lamb-bbq at the beach of Agia Pelagia); I tended a few gardens of foreigner’s houses; I shot pictures for my artist friend’s animation project in Melbourne. I was surprisingly invited to attend the 4th Historic Acropolis Rally on the Peloponnese as a delighted co-driver - and what I did not know then: I ended up visiting Sydney and Melbourne for the first time in November 2005!
Could I have asked for more??? Yes, I could ... but that is another story.

While the above were the big highlights, there were numerous small events, miracles, contemplations, encounters and moments which will remain in my heart for ever. In some ways each of my stays on Kythira was - planned or unplanned - a kind of therapy, certainly a time of challenges and introspection.

A long-time stay like this helps us realise the differences between home and a foreign place, makes us appreciate more what we might have get bored of at home. It’s also an eye-opener (if you are a realist) to see behind the easy-going, light tourist-side of a place and it’s society. In fact Kythira (and probably many of the islands) is in some ways a different world with different rules, even if Greece has been in the European Community much longer than Austria. A long stay like mine is also an opportunity to make connections with special people. If you are lucky, you learn about new family-stories. They are friendly there, yet reserved, many of them real individualists. They reveal their secrets as hesitantly and slowly as the island itself. The hard and dreadful winter-life influences everybody’s mood, one has to be sensitive and quick of hearing to see behind the the usual reply “kala eimai”.

In winter there are hardly any cosy, heated public places where people can go or meet. Oh, an exception was the "Taxidromeio" in Potamos, it was always a nice and warm place to to ask for mail, to have a little chat! But generally: the few open cafenions and restaurants are cold. They offer - if you are lucky - only an open fire-place or a stove situated in one corner of the room, or a radiator to be passed around from table to table - believe it or not!! So, going out for dinner to escape the cold, the solitude, the (dull) Greek TV program or the boredom at home is not to luxuriate in a cosy, stimulating atmosphere. Yet if you wear your winter gear while dining and are amongst nice "parea", you can endure and even enjoy a few hours . What a difference compared to possibilities in Central Europe, Athens, Australia! Also: what a difference to the summer on Kythira, when public life is overactive and at it’s peak: crowded, noisy, full of laughter and music.

You may ask what saved me from occasional attempts of running away?
The laptop and the camera, writing and taking pictures! Frequent occupation with searching, carrying and cutting driftwood for the kitchen stove, writing my journal, sending emails and letters, occasional phone calls from my family or friends abroad, taking many hundreds of photos during my excursions across the island, editing and partly printing them - and, last but not least, the responsibility for Caro, the cat. The unique friendship of two locals which we built up during these months, their advice and occasionally spending time together, helped me immensely. Spontaneous escapes wouldn’t have been possible anyway, the ferry and plane schedules being dependant on the ever-changing weather conditions.

Admittedly there were times of frustration where I gave up idealising island life, struggling to keep my balance. But he good side of the winter is that the island and it’s treasures seemed to belong to only me! I felt like a queen, striding with almost territorial pride and joy across the island, completely undisturbed and unwatched when taking pictures and exploring; it was so special to revel in inspecting old houses and villages, to walk the beaches, visit churches and chapels, discovering an ivory-overgrown marble "vrissi" without a soul around. A rare flower, a dark lily or an pink orchid, a field of blushing-red anemones, a green-spotted frog in the crystal-clear water of a "lagadi", a big butterfly on a smooth beach-pebble, the unspoilt and exquisite views - these were all mine for a few precious moments!
Looking back to what I experienced and learned within nine long months on the island I am grateful and still pleased that I decided to leave my home in Austria to go to Kythira for a special unforgettable adventure. I’d like to share with you some of my experiences in detail, my contemplations and thoughts as well as a small selection of photographic impressions taken under the ever changing influence of the Kythirian seasons. Be sure: I did not burn a bridge when I left; I’ll be back - maybe very soon!
(you can view Wilma's photos here: /download/Wilma )

Wilma Allex, born and resident in Austria’s countryside south of Vienna, mother of a student daughter, lived and worked in Germany and on two Greek islands, is originally of commercial profession, recently certified laughter-yoga trainer. She has always had a keen interest in travelling, languages, people, nature and foreign cultures, her favourites being Greek (arid) islands, North Africa and Arabia, the deserts. These exotic locations and meeting special people enhanced her interest in writing and photography. The challenging, unforgettable winter retreat on Kythira turned out to be the perfect opportunity to indulge in these passions.

If you are interested, please contact:
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 0043 2633 45314
Mobile: 0043 676 75 79 055

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Don't forget our 10,000th Entry Competition
Only about 400 new submissions on the Kythera site will bring us over the 10,000 entry mark – a great achievement for the whole Kytherian community. Those thousands of pictures and oral histories and family trees will keep our children and their children interested in the island for decades.

To celebrate this milestone the Website Committee has decided to offer prizes to a half-a-dozen of you who submit at least 20 entries between August 1st and October 31st. So this is your big chance to get on the Kytherian bandwagon and finally secure all of your family collection online. Or to add to your collection there already.

We will be drawing 6 names out of a hat and the prizes will be divided up amongst the lucky ones. And the prizes? The committee has rummaged through their treasure chests and so far we have come up with one original Kythera map from the 18th Century, various out-of-print books on Kythera now considered collectors' items, and a number of original prints from my exhibition photographs. And I'm sure we'll come up with other exciting prizes. Of course if any of you have something Kytherian which you would like to donate to the prize pot (please keep it portable – donkeys or grinding stones would push our postage budget...) please get in touch with George Poulos at [email protected] or Sydney 9388 83 20 .

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