Saturday, January 14, 2017

My Mykonos Secret Place


Jeff—Saturday

Today I want to talk about one of my favorite secret places on Mykonos, though I guess it won’t remain so secret after today…certainly not after my next book comes out honoring it with a guest appearance.

Intrigued? 

It’s a place about as far away from the spiritual direction the old town of Mykonos has taken as one can imagine, while sitting at the very core of the 24/7 action the island has come to epitomize. I’ve been amazed for some time now at how a town as unique and beautiful as Mykonos could allow its architecture to be so compromised by transient shop owners wishing to make it look like someplace else.  Madison Avenue-style display windows imposed on classic Cycladic structures––and their rapidly spreading minimalist modern progeny––do not represent thinking outside the box.  They are nothing more than an unimaginative denigration of the island’s historic natural beauty. 



Perhaps that is what makes the place I have in mind such a soulful refuge. At least for me.   It sits surrounded by glitzy ultra-high-end watch shops, only 30 meters from the heart of Mykonos’ late night café society, and just down the road, in the other direction, from Louis Vuitton and some of the island’s more well-known late night venues.  Its all white, classic 19th century Cycladic design stands beneath a balcony bearing a discreet sign advertising the island’s “accommodations center” on the second floor, separated from the flagstone road by a single step, and a thick, meter-high, white stucco wall enclosing a small, matching flagstone landing. 
 
The area at night


and come the morning

Directly up and across from the step, an ornately carved white marble jamb and entablature surround a sturdy, deep red, six-paneled double door, and off to its right, smooth white marble frames a matching red-trimmed, six-paned casement window with a model of an old-time sailing ship set inside on the sill.  The only apparent exterior concession to modern times is an open lattice of black iron bars over the window, but the bars match an ancient, cast iron canon set into the road just outside the wall.









A sign set in marble by the door reads, AEGEAN MARITIME MUSEUM.


An individual donor founded the museum in 1983 for the purpose of preserving and promoting the study of Greek maritime history and tradition, particularly the merchant-ship history of the Aegean Sea.  My good friend, Filippos Menardos, runs the place (when he’s not manning the register as his son Panayiotis’s truly phenomenal M’eating Restaurant) and speaks with great pride of the museum’s efforts to restore historical exhibits to their original state of design and build. 

Chef Panayiotis, Interloper, Filippos

Beyond the front door are a room full of miniature ships arranged in separate glass cases, walls lined in drawings of seagoing adventurers, their vessels and charts, and a rough marble floor bordered by artifacts of the maritime life.





But what truly draws me here takes me beyond that room, through a smaller room of similar appointments, to what lies behind a pair of solid red doors and a second set of glass-paneled French doors. 


Every time I step through those doors I wonder if Alice felt this way at the bottom of that rabbit hole.


It is a garden meant to honor those lost at sea.  But it also works well for those of us searching around on land. 

At the heart of the garden is a 400-square-meter mat of deep green, flat and smooth as a golf putting surface.  A gray flagstone walkway separates the grassy center from a border of olive, orange, hibiscus, bougainvillea, oleander, and other greenery, all running up to a two-meter-high, beige stone perimeter wall.  The garden is no more than 30 meters square but seems much larger because, beyond the wall, only treetops and snatches of a few all-white buildings are visible in the distance.


To your left, set off between what look to be a small storage room and the edge of the grass, stand the top two stories of a lighthouse.  A white, twelve-sided metal first story supports a second story of twelve, three-paned glass windows enclosing the lamp and lens. An exterior railed metal walkway encircles the base of the second story, and a verdigris dodecagon cupola and weather vane crown it all.


A plaque to the right of a metal hatchway in the base of the lighthouse commemorates an award at the Paris International Exhibition of 1889 for its lighting, and its subsequent service atop the Armenistis lighthouse in Fanari, at the northwest edge of Mykonos, from 1890 until replaced by a fully automated version in 1983. 


An array of relics from centuries at sea stands along the rear wall of the museum: cannon with metal and stone ammunition, a ship’s wheel, compass, engine-room telegraph to the bridge, and style of collision-avoidance device relied on in a time before radar.  A group of marble columns and slabs sits on flagstones by the near edge of the green, and three marble markers are at the far end of the plot. 


If you step on the grass you’ll notice two things.  First, it’s artificial turf.  A smart decision on an arid, drought-prone island. Second, the markers are marble cenotaphs, each honoring the memory of a sailor who’d not made it back to land, making this their spiritual gravesite.

I often come here to sit on a stone bench abutting the rear wall of the museum, looking out from a place of long ago, across the garden wall, to no place in particular, hearing not a sound except for the cries of birds.  And maybe my flute.

Please keep this to yourself.


—Jeff

17 comments:

  1. When I saw the first picture at the top of your post, Jeff, I was going to make a smartass remark about how that was the best picture you've posed for yet.

    But then the rest of the post grabbed me by the heart, so I'll forego the ass smarting. Lovely place, lovingly reported to the tight-lipped crowd.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I commend you for showing such restraint, EvKa. Perhaps you could have a word with Anonymous below?

      Delete
  2. Beautiful and intriguing. But I feel guilty knowing about it. That's the thing about secrets for me. They are special, until they're told. But then again the crowd that Mykonos ordinarily attracts would probably sneer at the mention of the word "museum." What's the use of things if they aren't super shiny and new and one can't buy them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beautiful and intriguing, just like you. :) On the tastes of the traditional crowd to Mykonos, to be fair the boats to the mile-away holy island of Delos are packed virtually every day, taking folks to perhaps the greatest open air museum on the planet, and the archaeological museum on Mykonos (right by the "new" taxi stand) is a gem. The thing is, many people who come to Mykonos on holiday and otherwise would go to museums simply don't know of their existence...only of its beaches and 24/7 action.

      Delete
  3. What a fabulous oasis in the middle of all that frenetic consumerism, Jeff. And I agree with Annamaria. I don't think it will become standing room only until you can buy expensive shiny things there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I shaved my head would that qualify as a shiny thing? Nah, I can be had for drachmas. :)

      Delete
  4. That lighthouse in the garden just did it for me! How wonderful! There are far too many Greek island which I haven't fully explored yet, away from the crowds... Thank you for reminding me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right Marina, that lighthouse makes the place fantasia-like.

      Delete
  5. But they could add a grill area in the grass and serve food. And don't forget how much traffic a couple of scantily clad girls dancing on the rail area of the lighthouse would generate. Also, they could serve shots poured by said girls to open mouthed customers below. A bit of training required there, but it's got potential, don't you think, Jeff?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Michael. I so needed to laugh out loud!

      Delete
    2. Dear Sir or Madam Anonymous (Sorry, I wasn't sure of your gender, what with the venue being Mykonos).

      Thank you for your suggestions, but I think scantily clad would be far too formal for the island's clientele.

      By the way, have you met our colleague, EvKa?

      Delete
  6. Many secrets in Mykonos. The Tourliani monastery at Ano Mera with the icons plastered with tamata may sparkle and gleam but the glow is about as otherworldly as it gets in Mykonos. I've been shown what I've been told is a menir as well...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure are, Shrew, from the abandoned mine shafts (see "Murder in Mykonos" :)) to the secret rooms at the Monastery of Panagia Tourliani in Ano Mera (it gets its name as you may know because the miraculous icon that now hangs there, adorned in jewels, gold, and tamata, was originally discovered in the Tourlos region of Mykonos (See, "Mykonos After Midnight:))

      As for the menhir, I believe you're referring to the one over by the "nunnery" about a kilometer from the monastery, where if you're lucky enough to convince the sole remaining nun to let you in, you'll find a wondrous place within those walls.

      Delete
  7. And thank you for sharing your secret

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure. Thank you for adding yours!

      Delete
  8. Lovely post Jeff. Were those shadows caused by the sun? I remember that.

    ReplyDelete