Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mykonos, Listen to the Music. Please.

I’m wound up. Translation: Pissed off by an argument I had with an arrogant rent-a-cop type who told an elderly tourist couple walking beside a wall on Mykonos’ main street that they couldn’t stop to look across the wall at the sea, because the wall was “private property.” 

Old photos courtesy Dimitris Koutsoukos

So, today I’m writing about a different side of Mykonos, not its iconic windmills and pelicans, dozens of breathtaking beaches, or fevered nightlife. 

No, today its all about the iconic hospitality of the Mykonian people inexorably linked to the island’s glorious past—and the fevered sorts who’ve come to change it all with promises to the locals that make the Harold Hill fast-talking con man character in “The Music Man” a paragon of virtue and truthfulness by comparison.

Obviously, the situation exploited by the fictional salesman in “The Music Man”—to save River City, Iowa’s children from the sins of ruination symbolized by a pool hall—is quite different from what confronts Mykonos.  Mykonos’ hustlers are real, and they’ve come with a goal of turning the entire island into a “pool hall,” offering the “sins of ruination” as enticements, not warnings.

I’m not talking about crooked politicians who line their pockets with funds stolen from hospitals, schools, roads, public services, and so on, that’s a subject for the courts to decide.

I’m talking about those masters of the craft of selling the sizzle not the steak.  Or, if you prefer fish, they know the perfect bait for landing the big one every time.  It’s hard to resist promises of fame, celebrity, and wealth, especially when the salesmen are smooth. And Mykonos attracts the best, because these guys come to where the money, sex, and action are to be found.  In the United States they make a beeline for HOLLYWOOD (known to some not so fondly as ‘fraud central USA” for all the scams run there under the guise of “the Biz”) or Las Vegas where “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” (translation: your money and/or soul). 

Hey, I’m no prude.  I love Vegas and LA.  I got engaged in one and married in the other. [Pause to reconsider the penultimate sentence. :)]

But, I accept those places for what they are: Polities born out of unfettered development, selective enforcement of codes and ordinances, and acceptance of the ruthless and unscrupulous into their midst.  If that’s the path Mykonos chooses to pursue, fine.   But no one should be misled into believing such changes have made or will make their island a “better” place.  What they most certainly do is make it a different place.  Whether better or worse depends on whom you ask and only their great-grandchildren will know the truth.

But of all Mykonos’ many natural blessings—sea, sun, beaches, and breezes—the one I most fear the island losing is what at its heart distinguishes Mykonos from all other places on this earth just as beautiful, if not more so:  The unwavering hospitality of its people.

Lose that and, “Bye-bye now.”



  1. More and more of us, coming to our beloved so called "rock" since dozens of years have the impression that the island is turning into a doghnut full of glaze, nicer from the outside every year but forming a hole at the inside by eating up the old behaviours.
    Anyway, still in love as much as can be and impatiently waiting for the aeroplane to land and to sit at the harbour in a couple of hours.

  2. Ah yes, Hermann, there definitely is an inescapable magic to the place that once it has you...well, I surely don't have to tell you!

  3. Interesting post today, Jeff. Speaking as a 'regular' sort of visitor to Greek islands, I can tell you the first time someone told me I couldn't look at a sea view as referenced above, would be the last time I visited that island -- no matter how beautiful I found the beaches or how tasty the food at the cafes. We were told by many on our recent travels in Greece (which didn't include Mykonos) that this is the 'make it or break it' year for many tourism-dependent businesses. . .they've 'hung on' during this time referred to as The Crisis (their words, not mine)but are now teetering. The behavior of your 'cop' isn't going to help.

  4. Thank you, Jackie, for saying that. I wrote this piece to alert those who care most about this island to be careful. So much hard work by so many at creating an image can be destroyed in a word by one who sees visitors as euros rather than guests. Thankfully, few are like that here, but those who are should be nipped in the bud...or at such other painful spot as deemed appropriate for the transgression.

    By the way, your take on this--as a travel writer--only reaffirms the message to "Take Care." Thanks.

  5. That was my response as well. Tourism is far too valuable to treat dismissively. I think some of the protectiveness comes from the anxiety over the economy, which creates a destructive paradox. I hope all your friends enjoy a productive summer. You will enjoy, I know.

  6. Hospitality, I'm afraid is a lost art. Now when you travel and someone is gracious and kind, it's almost a shock. And the negative is always remembered. Years ago we were in the UK and having tea at Harrods. My husband wanted to see the restaurant (this was in the afternoon). As he stood looking from the entrance to the interior, the MD said, "May I help you?" "I'm just looking,"said my my husband. "We don't look here," said the MD.

  7. Your point it is well-taken which is why when you come across a place with generally such welcoming hospitality to all--like Mykonos--it so stands out. For some yet to be understood reason, in many parts of this planet too many hosts now think that the key to attracting an "upscale" clientele is to extend common courtesy to but a select few. Frankly, I take that as an indication of a moral certainty: Those foolish enough to take the bait will be ripped off by the %$#@$.