Saturday, October 19, 2013

Syros: A Portal to the Past.

There has to be more to life than rabid politics and mindless consumerism.

There has to be more to life than television news.

There has to be more to life than greed for the sake of greed.

There has to be more to life than peanut butter.  Okay, maybe that last point is a bit extreme.

This begins my final week on Mykonos for 2013.

Then I’m off to Athens for a week.

And on to New York where after four days I take off to San Francisco to begin a two-month book tour.

I’m feeling philosophical.  Maybe I need peanut butter.   Crunchy style.  I’m attracted to nuts.
Syros' capital city of Ermoupoli

Last week I went to Syros, the capital island of the Cycladic chain of Aegean islands about an hour west of Mykonos by boat.  For one brief moment in the 1800s Syros’ capital city of Ermoupoli (and the actual capital of the Cyclades) also served as the capital of Greece.  Or so I’m told. 

Phoenicians were the first known inhabitants of Syros, naming the island from their word for “wealth,” and later occupiers, pirates, and Syriots seeking precisely that same prize brought boom and bust times to the millennia that followed.  Syros’ last great aristocratic run, as Greece's Nineteenth Century ship building and repair center (the first shipyards in Greece were established there), ended at the close of that century with the opening of the Corinth Canal and the harbor and shipyards at Athens’ port city of Piraeus.
Neorion Shipyards, first in Greece

Syros still has its stunning neoclassical buildings, streets paved with marble, and opera house––some say the first in Greece––but there’s no question the glory has faded.  No more than four hundred of the island's twenty thousand residents still work in its shipyards and though known for agriculture—but not for tourism—the island's main role now is as the political center of the Cyclades.
Ermoupoli street scene
Ermoupoli City Hall, designed by Ernst Ziller

To be honest, I never paid much attention to my time on Syros before. I’d go there at least once a year, spend time walking around the town, enjoying its wonderful open market streets filled with fresh produce, fish, farm raised meats, candies, and pastries  (Nothing like that on Mykonos).  And I’d admire the buildings. How could you not?  Parts of Syros are as if you’re in Rome.  Make that old Rome, before its Benetton days.

But this time I stayed over one night.  Next time it will be for many more nights, for I was transported to a different time and place. 

Hotel Ploes

There is something about staying in a late 19th Century private mansion, tucked away on a quiet marble paved street, on the edge of the sea, amid buildings erected in a gilded age that takes your breath away and brings meaning to your own simple thoughts on life.

After all, on Syros you’re in the heart of what once was the economic equivalent of today’s Silicon Valley and when you look at her now you see the flesh and blood embodiment of such truisms as “all fame is fleeting,” “all success is relative” (also in the sense that your successor relatives will likely spend it all), and “nothing should be more highly prized than the value of each day.” 

Don’t misunderstand me.  There is no reason to pity this glorious island.  It is to be treasured.  And those residents aware of its history surely do.  For it gives them perspective on what perseveres and matters.  People persevere, buildings fade.  People matter, buildings only if people care.   It’s people, not things, which determine a nation’s destiny. 

Greeks, understand that better than us all. Or at least they should. For they live amid a land that’s flourished (and floundered) for six thousand years (some say five).

I’m blessed to be lucky enough to be part of all that is Greece for six (sometimes seven) months a year.  Though I’d be happier with eight…and peanut butter.



  1. Off COURSE there's more to life than peanut butter! There's jelly. And bread. And crunchy peanut butter? There's any other kind? Nutty, indeed.

    Wait a minute! I recognize a couple of those paragraphs about the history of Syros from the book I'm reading, word for word. Plagiarist! I'm going to alert the author. Boy, you're in trouble now!

    But Ermoupoli looks wonderful. I wish I'd seen all of these pictures BEFORE I'd read that part of the book!

    So, any chance you'll make it to Oregon on your book tour? Or even as close as Vancouver, Washington? I've got a jar of peanut butter...

    1. Well, Mr. Eagle Eye, Syros' history hasn't changed since I wrote those two paragraphs for "Mykonos After Midnight," but if you compare the two in the blog with the two in the book (careful about the peanut butter on the fingers now), you'll see there have been a few additions and revisions to reflect updated info---and confuse you, of course.

      I'd love to make it to Oregon. All I need is for Oregon to reciprocate.:) But I will be in Seattle. And San Francisco...twice. In fact, my whole tour schedule is posted on the blog piece I put up today on my publisher's website,

  2. Thank you for another lovely trip, and for the history. Beautiful pictures, and I hope you have a great tour (and get your peanut butter).

  3. I really need to plan to stay a day there the next time I'm over. Sounds like a lovely day out to explore. By the way, thanks for the Peanut Butter reference....I'm hungry now.

  4. Absolutely beautiful, breathtaking, and the history of the Phoenicians living there makes Syros even more fascinating.

    Wish I was there right now, sitting in a cafe off a marble-lined street.

  5. And I can assure you, Kathy, that Syros wishes you were there as well!

  6. If I were you, I would spend all of every August in Syros. You can get me to fall in love with a place I have never senn or thought of before. But you can never get me to tolerate peanut butter. YUCK!! Dreadful stuff.

    1. August on Syros is something many Greeks do. They also prefer the Halvah to the peanut butter. I think I'll have some right now in your honor, Annamaria. WIth yoghurt. Not peanut butter flavored either.