The first issue of Mykonos Confidential hit the lanes and beaches of my island home eleven years ago. Since then it’s become the often imitated, but never equaled, summertime bible of the passions, pastimes, and peccadillos of a place like no other.
As its publisher, Petros Bourovilis, wrote in his editorial piece welcoming readers to this summer’s issue, “Since the beginning the objective was a magazine that would capture the essence, soul and energy of the island. We have made it all these years.”
In June, Petros asked if I’d write an article for the magazine describing how life on the island has changed during my time here. No constraints, no editorial guidelines, just tell it as I saw it. That was a difficult offer to refuse, and so I accepted. The magazine came out a week ago, and I’m pleased to say that no lynch mobs have appeared at my door. But the summer’s still young.
I titled the piece, “It’s All About Balance,” and consistent with what some say is my determination to live dangerously, I’ve decided to share my published thoughts with a broader audience. So, with the blessing of Mykonos Confidential, here are those reflections on my thirty plus years on Mykonos.
“As long as the soufflé rises, don’t worry about the earthquake.”
I actually never cared much for soufflés, and certainly am not a fan of earthquakes, but somehow that phrase popped into my head when Mykonos Confidential graciously asked if I’d write a piece about our island for its Summer 2016 issue.
If I’ve learned anything from my years of creative writing it’s that when the muse beckons, listen. So, armed with that image of a soufflé, and my commission to capture the essence of modern day Mykonos compared to my memories of thirty-plus years past (I shall not say how many “plus”), I set off on my quest.
|My original appearance in Mykonos Confidential|
As the serendipitous Fates would have it, I found inspiration on a glorious early June Saturday afternoon in a gala birthday party thrown by two of my favorite people at a beach club synonymous with the best of the modern day Mykonos experience. It came to me in a vision of epic proportions, laid out almost as clearly as the day’s cloudless bright blue sky and sparkling turquoise to ultramarine sea, with all the necessary characters in place about me ready to play their parts amid the perfect setting for telling the tale.
|The cast at play at Jackie O's Beach Club|
Thirty years ago, one of the owners of the birthday celebration venue first visited Mykonos. It was a very different time. But then again, so too were the days thirty years before his initial visit. Back sixty years, Mykonians impoverished by World War II and Greece’s post-war conflicts struggled to scrape by anyway that they could, be it in the island’s barite mines, off the land or sea, or from a fledging tourism industry. Beach life as we know it today did not exist, and the best land was viewed as agricultural, away from the seashore. It was daughters who inherited the seaside land…but that’s another story.
By 1986 beaches were popular, and tavernas sat close by many. But rarely did a hotel, sparingly a home, and none of the clubs in the form we now take for granted. Today, their absence is an exception, growing more so every year. Whether that’s good or bad is not for me to judge, just observe. And so I shall, through these snapshots of some of those who came to celebrate on that Saturday afternoon.
The party celebrated the 50th birthday of one of the island’s pre-eminent restaurateurs, one half-of a couple that’s infused the island with grand ideas and exquisite execution. It’s not been easy. It never is for new ideas to take root on such gritty island ground, or to survive the trampling down and nibbling away by the nature of the beast known as island ways. That creature thrives among herds of old allegiances and family ties conditioned to keep new ideas and their practitioners at bay.
|Birthday boy Egidio and Niko.|
The story of the birthday boy and his partner’s successes on the island is one of determination, skill, and flexibility, not unlike that of the two who created the birthday venue, for each couple measures its businesses on the island in terms of decades rather than generations. In other words, they’re newcomers.
So how did they succeed? To me the answer is simple: They grasped the shifting desires and tastes of the island’s clientele, while never losing sight of Mykonos’ natural beauty as its quintessential draw, and that staying in synch with the unique physical and psychological nature of the island is paramount to success.
Respect for its beaches and the constancy of its architecture is what makes Mykonos the draw that it is, not trendy foreign tastes attempting to make it seem like somewhere else. Madison Avenue-style display windows imposed on classic Cycladic structures—and their rapidly spreading minimalist modern progeny—are not thinking outside the box, but an unimaginative denigration of the island’s historic natural beauty. Visitors come not looking for the shop or bar or fashion they know back home. They come looking for Mykonos.
Those who hosted the party get it. That is why they prosper. And they also take care of their people, both employees and guests. It is the essence of Mykonos hospitality: an appreciation of people.
Which is precisely what that party was all about, friends from around the world gathered together to celebrate in a place of joy. I saw old faces and new. Greeks, non-Greeks; gays, non-gays; locals, non-locals; rich, non-rich, all there in abundance listening to 80s music, grazing on modern cuisine, drinking what they desired, wearing as much or little as they wished, dancing, sunning, playing, perhaps even praying, but all smiling and doing whatever made them happy.
I stood watching old Mykonos stories being remade by the young in their own words, and though time will fly by for them surely as quickly as it has for me, I can assure each one that those memories will always remain the property of their maker—and just as fresh as the new memory I most cherish of that afternoon.
It began as a flashback to more decades ago than I care to remember, when one of the island’s great foreign beauties was captured au natural windsurfing at sunset. The photo became a postcard, the image a legend. She’s a grand friend and great lady who emigrated here long ago, and represents so much of Mykonos’ past.
We sat chatting through much of the party, and deep into the late but still hot afternoon, as the happy hordes danced poolside, and the drag queen show drifted off into memory, she slipped away to poolside, dropped her wrap, and slid into the pool the same as she once appeared on that postcard.
Not a soul turned to gawk, or say a word. She did it as unnoticed as a golden, falling leaf. I looked beyond the edge of the pool to buildings going up on the other side of the bay, each so out of touch with the island’s natural beauty and past that one longs for them to crumble.
Then my friend emerged from the pool, dried, and gracefully dressed, demonstrating her propensity for creating memorable moments out of the simplest of ingredients.
Much as a determined soufflé will rise against the earthquake.
Let us all rise.