Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Looking across the rim of the caldera to Thira, capital of Santorini
Harry Hatzidakis and his vines on Santorini

Monday, October 30, 2006

Marathi - so tiny, you won't find it on most maps
The Aspro Nisi (White Islands) as seen from Lipsi

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Battlements of the Holy Monastery of St John, on top of Patmos


Excerpts from Notebook 6

Let me now, as I sit here on Samothraki looking out on the Thracian Sea, freezing my now not so little backside off (I have put on over a stone since I left – so much for the Greek diet), take you to the island of Patmos; the most Northern of the Dodecanese.

Patmos is special, like the finest of wines drunk in the company of the best of friends; its effects and influences were to be felt, and continue to be so, throughout the rest of my journey.

It is dominated by the most impressive Monastery of St John atop the hill and about the confines of the Hora, the old town. Here live the great, good, the beautiful and the rich. This is largely due to the influence of a wonderful Englishman, Teddy Millington-Drake who is largely responsible for putting the then rather rundown island back on the map after the war. Sadly, Mr. Millington-Drake is no longer with us, taken at an early age (as is always the case). The eleganti still talk of him glowingly and his spirit lives on in the young filled bars, cafes and nightclubs of the Hora. He was evidently a man who loved life and whose energy and love for such touched everyone he met. His spirit ran through the tiny narrow streets and gave the place an almost electric atmosphere as a result.

Patmos is the island where St John the Theologian, at the age of 92, was exiled. It was here he saw the Apocalypse in a tiny cave half way up the Mountain on top of which sits the Monastery of St John founded in the 11th Century by St Christodulous (?) under imperial charter from the Byzantine Emperor Alexi Komminos.

Anyway, St John was one of the original Twelve Disciples of Jesus and to Patmos he was banished. You will have to wait til I get back to England, if anyone actually reads this, to discover who banished him there but all I can say is that at 92, we will probably all be having odd dreams, but may God bless him for living beyond that great age and for what he told us as a result. Readers of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Codes will be only too aware how the Christian Church gratefully received texts such as the Apocalypse because they could be used as finger wagging proof that if you didn’t behave, beware what was to befall you. In actual fact, the texts which St John was to dictate to his faithful Monk Scribe, Prohoras, were aimed at seven Churches. The Seven Churches were: Philadelphia, Smyrna (Izmir today), Ephesus, Pergamum, Laodicea, Thyatira and Sardis. These effectively represented the extent of the Christian world at the time, so if you think because you live in Shanghai, New York or London it lets you off the hook, forget it.

It was also here that I met Father Martinionos. For this I blame Father Serraphim, a monk of the Monastery who simply suggested I meet him because his English was better than anyone else's. Of Father Martinionos you will read much more for he, like many Monks, is a great man among men and someone who perhaps in life we only get to meet once or, if we are exceptionally lucky, may be twice. As is my wont, I bowl into the Monastery courtyard and there is a jolly Monk, all black robes and beard with the bearing not unlike a “P’lice man” from one of those 1930s Underground Railways posters and I ask him for “Father Martinionos please…”

“I am he, my Son, how can I help you?” A thick Greek accent replies from within the huge theatre curtain like beard hung about his face.

And with those rather magical words so a friendship that I suppose will last a lifetime began. A huge man, Father “Mart”, both physically and in spirit. I will tell you his incredible story from the very high life to an even “higher” life at a later date, he has an aura of love and God about him that touched me from the very moment I met him. He is not without character, he is never without love and if ever God’s instrument on earth was to be in the flesh, surely it must be part in him. No dullard, I will take great pleasure in telling you all about this special person who is loved by so many and perhaps with whom my most special times lie ahead as I prepare to go the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos.

Before I met Father Martinionos…

"...At Harrow,
the Reverend Gamble used to remind us how virtuous we should feel for going to Holy Communion at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning, returning with an almost Saintly glow for deeds well done. It is a vision which continually sits with me as routinely, every bloody Sunday at home in Dorset I get up way too early for someone who hates getting up and trudge off to St Nicholas, where I was baptised, to largely sleep through prayers before receiving Communion and, for a slug of wine, feeling considerably better as a result and thence, heading home for a good breakfast.

So it was, on Carolyn’s advice that I struggled up that pig of a Byzantine Path to the Church of the Cave to go to early morning Mass that Sunday morning. Let me tell you that I was far from religious as I got up at 6 o’ blasted clock and less so as I sweated up that unforgiving hill. It was already hot. St John was no fool and I reckon he told Prohoras, “alright chum, we have gone quite far enough as it is, this is the place of my dreams – summits are for Nepalis in need of money and nice New Zealanders trying to make a point.”

….at cock crow, Sunday morning, I was up, the island, this special island, swathed in a blanket of pink as dawn nudged the day gently into life. This, I knew, would be a little jaunt that would be good for the Soul. Well, my soul at any rate. The path was not as easy at that hour I had imagined, or was it the Holy Vodka the night before? Not so Holy perhaps. Outside the tiny Chapel, I danced about as I stripped my shorts off to put some trousers on, praying, seriously praying that as I hopped about trying to get decent, noone would see me in all my effective nakedness – now was not a time for underwear you see, too hot.

Inside the Chapel of St Ann and the Cave of the Apocalypse it was humbling to think that here the final Book of the Holy Bible, the Revelations, was dictated to Prohoras, in the vision experienced by St John. This, his second book of the Bible. Regardless as to whether you believe the Revelations or not, that this place has been venerated for very nearly 2000 years is nonetheless remarkable. The smooth darkened crack of the three way fissure in the Cave ceiling through which St John heard the trumpet call and the voice of God is clearly there for all to see, the hollow in the rock where he laid his head and the nick he used as a hand hold to get up, the ledge used by Prohoras to record the words dictated to him. In those far off times, the Cave must have been a desolate windswept place, bare fronted, open to the elements. And yet a then more peaceful and isolated spot for reflection in those oft persecuted times I doubt you would have found. In the Book of Revelation, we have the only insight as to what God may look like, appearing as a bearded man (?). He gave instructions to St John that he was to record what he heard and saw and then send these instructions to the Seven Churches in Asia Minor (latter day Turkey effectively, see above). The painted iconistas (altar screen) is, in its own right, famous for being painted by Thomas Vathos in 1500 tells the story intricately.

I found it difficult not to be touched by what I saw before me. The thought that here I was standing in a spot where it is known, not believed, but physically known, that one of Jesus’s disciples lived for 18 months and wrote his second Book of the Bible which makes up the New Testament quite simply, remarkable.

Discussions at home with Sir JohnTaverner had prepared me that the Liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church was a long haul and that there were, shall we say, “short cuts” (like turning up at the very end) but perhaps not as long as even I had anticipated. Two and a half hours. Like hello Virtuosity! This was a back breaking marathon. In front of me was an aged Maria look alike straight out of “The Sound of Music” who clearly knew what she was doing, so much so that she hissed and snaped at the exquisitely polite Belgian diplomat next to me as he eitherr made too much noise flicking the pages of his prayer book in bewilderment or sat down when he should have stood up. Like in the Army, I quickly learnt just to follow what “Maria” was doing even though Idont think the Father officiating could realy give a damn what we did – one thing for sure was that in her I had met my Kurt Waldheim, so best watch out. Thanks to her glowing example, and let me tell you she made St John himself look like a veteran gambler of the worst sort (there is hope for me yet), I stood up, sat down and crossed myself at all the right moments, I think.

The passage of this inordinately long time in Church was made all the more easier by one thing and one thing alone: cruise ships!! Yes, cruise ships! Because, you see, cruise ships, full of lovely fare paying pilgrims and the not so pilgrimistic but plain curious tourists (Heh, Bartholomew, will you get a look at that crack man?!” – Have I ever lied to you?....) serve, amongst other things (like oodles of land) to make the Monastery one of the richest places on earth, or Greece at any rate and each “pilgrim” (Marcey, can you help me here, what’s a pilgrim?”) unwittingly contributes handsomely to the wealth of the Monastery. That morning, part of the reason I was up so early was to beat the “Cruise Ship” and the endless parade of buses rushing up the hill to “do” the Cave and then the Monastery.

Nothing prepared me for the parade I was to be treated to; I mean stuff Julie Andrews hissing and cussing in front of me, this was sheer Broadway! Disinterested, “Mom, why do we have to get up sooo early, I mean its just like a ..well… cave!” “Shut up Son, the Lord came here!” “Yeah but not at 7am on a Sunday I bet and at least with a caffeee I reckon.” It was like a fashion show and any idea of the service being a spiritual experience in the presence of God soon left me after the second tour guide arrived, “en plein masse”, with her Argo Tours ping pong bat held high and started proclaiming the Holy Cave like she was in an aircraft cabin giving a safety brief. “Mind your heads please, CRACK, oops, Mr Miller, I told you, the cave is very low. Look up left, the crack, look right the nook, look in front the ledge. In case we crash on water your lifebelt is under your seat..” “What dear?” “Oh sorry, its Sunday, we are on land..” You can imagine. Meantime, too many bewildered old Wilmers and stooped prunes of Barbaras were clonking and branging their heads against the “Goddam cave” to keep me from falling asleep. All the while, the diligent Father kept about his business chanting the Liturgy, this beautiful service, as if nothing was going on out of the norm. “Heh Bob, check this, this is the crack!” “He really slept here”, they sometimes whispered and hissed now as trippers of quite literally all shapes, sizes, ages, colour and, I suppose, creed filed past like convicts in a passing chain gang on a fashion show not of their choice. Being early in the day buy anyone’s book, a few of the poor souls were still half asleep and of the 120 who passed through, I counted at least 5 who cracked their heads a “good’un” on the way by. That’s one in 4 who didn’t pay attention to the guide... “ouch, Fuck, I mean Oh Christ! I mean, oh er…Mom….!” “Edgar, you will wash your mouth out in the House of the Lord!” "

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Aliki Hotel, Symi
Jeffery and Jane at Santa Marina Bay
The baobab tree, in the garden of Villa Cleobolus, Rhodes