August in Greece and other matters
I am writing this from Kastellorizo, which is a small Greek island situated in the Eastern Mediterranean approximately two kilometres from Kas on the Lycian Coast of Turkey. We, Michel (husband) and I, are here attending a documentary film festival, Beyond Borders. Michel is the Director of International Development for the festival. This is our third visit. Last year, I was a member of the jury but this year I am enjoying being here as a rather privileged guest with no particular role to play except to delight in all that the island has to offer.
I took this snap yesterday. It offers you a glimpse of a few of the lovely Neoclassical houses, many of which border the harbour. The island was shelled during World War I, then occupied by the French followed by the Italians until the British took control of it at the beginning of the 1940s. It was bombed and burned to the ground during the Second World War. Over the past decades and still today it is being lovingly restored. The walls of the properties are painted in bright colours. It gives off a mood of joy. Many of these homes are restaurants – some of the best seafood is served here – and pensions. The welcome is, as one would expect from Greece, generous and warm. There are daily ferries to and from Turkey so you can pop across to visit or buy a carpet, or simply for the fun of changing continents!
Surprisingly few people know about this island with its incredibly rich history. Here is a short piece I wrote for the Mail on Sunday Travel section after our first visit in 2017.
This time, as I am no longer simply amazed by the beauty and layered history of the island nor am I spending all my free hours watching documentary films or locked in jury meetings, I have the opportunity to write my next novel in the mornings after a dip and then later in the day delve a little deeper into all that the island, its past and day-to-day present, have to offer.
This is not me swimming, it’s a loggerhead turtle.
The loggerhead turtles, also known as Caretta Caretta, still swim into the harbour and paddle about your feet. It is a sight that never fails to delight me. There is a pair, I think they are a couple, who visit most evenings. I recognise them now. This year, the locals have set up a campaign requesting the tourists not to feed these extraordinary marine creatures, which is a great relief – it always troubled me to see them being thrown great chunks of bread and platefuls of chips. There have been two unpleasant side effects. The first is that jelly fish have arrived in the harbour (although I haven’t encountered any myself and I have been swimming off several of the island’s bays). Jelly fish are a food for certain breeds of young turtles but because they are being fed by humans at the harbourside restaurants they are less inclined to hunt for their own dinner. Hence the arrival of jelly fish. The other is that there have been reports that some of the turtles have shown signs of aggression towards swimmers, occasionally biting them. Again, I have not encountered this nor has there been any incident since we arrived last week, but I did come across one turtle whose head was caught in a rope from a small boat tied up at the harbour. The rope was strangling the turtle as he tried to escape. I shouted for help and we managed to release him and he swam off placidly, unhurt, seemingly unbothered.
There is also the danger of plastics. Diners at the waterside tossing bottle tops into the sea, leaving rubbish on the beaches that is then dragged by the waves into the water. The marine life frequently swallow the debris. The turtle populations are declining. There is a move to have them listed as endangered.
Our relationship with every creature has become more precarious, our responsibilities clearer.
So enamoured am I by these graceful sea souls that I have joined an organisation online called archelon.gr. A sea turtle protection society that sends news including where turtles can be found nesting – recently green turtles were sighted nesting in Crete.
I can happily while away hours following the exploits of these beautiful reptiles or just sit here by the water gazing at them.
Usually, on the 26th of each month, I post my blog for the History Girls. We are a group of twenty-eight women writers who have published at least one book of history be it novel, children’s book or non-fiction.
For various reasons, mainly due to time constraints, we have decided to post only once a week instead of on a daily basis. This means that instead of each of us writing one blog a month our individual commitment is for one blog every few months. It certainly does ease the workload. I have decided to use that extra time I have been given to post more regularly here on my own website, which is why you are hearing from me now. It offers me the opportunity to round up some of the things that have happened during the month and remind you of any upcoming events I will be attending.
So, this was posted in the Daily Mail, the Saturday before last. It was commissioned for their double page spread entitled Summer Essay. I hope you enjoy it if you haven’t already read it.
My next event will be in Scotland at the Wigtown Festival. Here are the details with the link to buy tickets. It would be fab if you are anywhere in the vicinity and could come along to say hello. I will be talking about and reading from THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF.
6pm Saturday 5th October 2019
Festival Marquee £9.00
I also want to mention any book I have been reading that has stood out for me during the past weeks. This month the stand out book is Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry, an Irish writer whose work I did not know before this novel. It is his most recent and has been long-listed for the Booker. Ireland is certainly experiencing a new golden age in literature and this is no exception to the list of fine novels being published from there. This is a brilliant black comedy and has been compared to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Two Irish wastrels stranded in a port at the foot of Spain, recollecting their lives. I found it by turns heart-breaking and hilarious. The language is ripe – be warned if that troubles you – but it is genius in its depiction of the stranded human heart.
Now, I am off for a swim. Thank you for reading this!