Saturday, May 11, 2013

On Tinos the Greek Spirit Reigns Supreme

My buddy called me at 11AM and asked, “What are you doing.”  From experience I knew that meant only one thing: he was about to tempt me with some wild-ass distraction.  So, I laid it on heavy.

“I’m swamped. I’m in the midst of working on an essay I promised to contribute to a  ‘how to’ book on developing characters, under a deadline to get back to my publisher with ARC corrections on my new book coming out in September, immersed in preparing an outline for the month-long writing course I promised my alma mater I’d teach in January, and I’m trying to finish the 6th Kaldis book before the end of the summer.”

“Good, you’re not busy. We’re leaving in two hours on the ferry for Tinos. We’re invited to a panegyri which means you’re invited, too.”

And that, my friends, is how the ruination of all good intentions begins.

He knew I couldn’t resist. I hadn’t been back to Tinos since August. A less than thirty-minute ferry ride from Mykonos brings you to an entirely different world.  I’ve written about that Cylcadic island before (for Novel Adventures), and of course, it served as the venue for my 4th Andreas Kaldis adventure, Target: Tinos

"A" marks the spot of the panegyri

Most who know of Tinos do so because of its Church of the Annunciation, Panagia Evangelistria, the most revered religious shrine in Greece where more than a million pilgrims flock into Tinos’ harbor town each year, many seeking healing from its famed Miraculous Icon of the Virgin Mary. 

For me, though, it’s greatest attraction lay elsewhere: Fifty villages as quiet and undisturbed as a dreamer’s quaint fantasy of Greece; brilliant vistas at every turn; a meandering two-hundred-mile network of cobblestone trails and old farm paths running from hillside to hillside and dipping into valleys in between; and a history of fabled marble quarries and artisans linked to some of Greece’s greatest artistic achievements.

How could I resist returning there in glorious springtime? And, so, of course, I caved.

The hosting church of the panegyri

Technically, a panegyri is a party celebrating the name day of a Greek Orthodox saint, but in this instance the party was thrown by a Catholic church.  Unlike predominantly Orthodox Greece, Tinos has a substantial Catholic population with roughly one half of its formal churches Catholic, and whether this celebration was tied into the fortieth day after Catholic Easter or something else, I do not know.  What I do know is that from the moment we arrived in the tiny village of Kechros I felt I was home; and I’d never been there before.

Kechros is an inland agricultural community well east of the island’s dominating Mount Xobourgo—a soaring granite height, faced with sheer cliffs on three sides, due north of the port, and to which since pre-historic times the island’s inhabitants flocked for protection from all sorts of invaders.
Mt. Xobourgo

An on and off again misting rain sent more villagers (and visitors) inside than usual but the faces were all sunshine.   It was the sort of experience which reveals the bedrock Greek trait that keeps drawing me back to their land:  No matter what stresses are playing upon their souls, the Greeks’ innate sense of finding time to share in celebrating the simple joys of life reigns supreme. Nothing typifies that spirit more than an island panegyri, where all are welcome and rarely must one pay.

In a Tinos mountain village you might not find a pharmacy or supermarket, but there will be a welcoming smile as sweet as the island’s honey, and a likely winking eye for one who cannot resist snatching a lemon from a tree or an artichoke from it’s perch.

I enjoyed my afternoon journey into a different time, but it ended far too quickly and by evening I was back on the ferry returning to Mykonos.  There is so much to experience on Tinos, and each time I travel there I find a new reason to return. This time I found one again…the opening of a new local brewery.  We bumped into the owner and she invited us. 

Did I forget to say how very friendly are the people?  There’s a lot to learn from those who appreciate the simple pleasures of friendship, community celebration…and artichokes.

Whoops, must run. The brewery opens tonight.



  1. Jeff, thanks for this lovely visit to Tinos. I know that feeling of warm welcome from their Siracusani cousins across the Aegean, where they also still celebrate name days, but not usually with beer. The products of the vineyards: Nero d'avola and bianco d'Etna are the beverages of choice where I have my roots. You do make me want to see those islands. More so with every one of these delightful vicarious visits.

  2. Thanks, Annamaria. Well, it appears Greeks and Italians are not just "same face, same race" but same beverage! That's homemade white wine, not beer on the table. Though beer is popular--so much so that may the new brewery I referred to prosper and do well--but at every panegyri I've attended it's always wine, wine, wine.

    Looking forward to your guest post Monday, oh great author of the upcoming June release, BLOOD TANGO.

  3. Lovely, and I'm sure you enjoyed it all :)

    1. I struggled to, Lil, Lord only knows how I struggled--at least I hope only the Lord:)