January 2, 2011

Samos, bridge between East and West.

Fifty years ago I was only one of a handful of foreigners visiting the Greek island of Samos. There were no visitors from Athens, no tourists and no restaurants. Cruise ships were unknown. The ship from Piraeus anchored far out and its passengers were carried ashore in small boats. After the long journey there was a real sense of arrival.

Today, wherever there are beautiful islands, life has changed immesurably. The intervening years have witnessed an explosion of development, with invasions of travelers seeking the sun and something else less easely defined-perhaps the simplicity of a way of life that has largely vanished from the modern world.

Samos managed to remain independent for a long time.  It prospered inspite of the many battles its people fought to stave off invasion.  It was the birthplace of many exceptional minds.  The astronomer and mathematician Aristarchus who was the first to study the movement of the earth.  Callistatus who established the 24-letter alphabet, the architects and sculptors Rhoikos and Theodoros, who built the famous temple of Hera and the painters Saurias (the first painter too use chiamoscuro in his work) and Calliphon, painter of a number of masterworks which were to be seen in the temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

However, the best known of all these figures, is Pythagoras (580 - 500 BC) philosopher, mathematician and musician.  
Today, Samos is regarded as one of the most beautiful Hellenic islands it has not become a mass tourism destination, thus it keeps its unique, natural beauty.  An island that lives by its traditions.  You can feel this in every step you take and with every encounter of the courteous, hard-working people who respect the ways of their ancestors.

In the black night of winter, when the fishermen pass by the wind-buffeted and sheer slopes of Mt. Kerkis, the highest mountain on Samos, they say that they see a light at the peak that like a lighthouse guides them on a safe course during a storm.  They even say that the light is the spirit of Pythagoras.

Life can be conducted very differently when the weather is warm and clear skies a regular occurrence.  It is outward rather than inward looking, so the interior design styles of the temperate and northern climes look alien in the clear light of the Mediterranean, Caribbian, or tropics.  Walls are whitewashed, colors are clean and brilliant, furniture, and patterns are simple and traditional to the locality.  The most successful houses reflect their surroundings.

In the romantic sense, hot-climate style is a way of appreciating the simple life. Farmhouses are converted to holiday places. New houses copy the local vernacular. Architecture without architects. Whitewashed walls, tiled floors, scrubbed boards, and local pottery.
In practical terms, hot-climate style is a triumph of common sense. Whitewashed walls reflect light and heat; thick walls mean cool interiors and protection from strong, hot winds (meltemi in Greece). Shutters exclude glare and filter breezes latticed doors allow air to circulate. But these interiors are pleasing on a more elemental level. Living in a hot country, especially for those who are not native to it, reawakens the senses.