What do you have when a dream turns out to be a lie?

When you think of the Greek islands do you imagine the whitest sand beaches nestled in scenic coves with the bluest of blues you can imagine?   

When I was in Nisyros on the study abroad program we had a beach like that all to ourselves.  So between classes and visits with our host families, you can bet we spent many afternoons there, basking in the sun, swimming in the water.  It was a special time for us though, knowing that we were fortunate enough to enjoy something so authentic, so real and the memory of our time on that beach was always one I could count on to put a smile on my face.  In my dreams I had a house perched on a hill overlooking that very beach.  My journal entry from my return trip to Nisyros in 2010 tells the rest of the story.    

An abandoned fishing boat which inspired the painting "shipwrecked," still available in print

An abandoned fishing boat which inspired the painting "shipwrecked," still available in print

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Today I took a long walk to the village of Paloi to do some sketching on the sight of some Roman thermal baths.  Hot mineral water has been an asset to Nisyros and used for medicinal purposes throughout its history even to the present day.  Along the way I came across an abandoned fishing boat looking every bit like a shipwreck.  It stands as evidence of a harsh winter in terms of the weather and the economy.  I passed by the Mira Mara night club which we patronized more than a few times and on those nights when we didn’t, we could always hear the bouzukia echoing off the water, because we stayed a short distance down the road at the Loutra. The Loutra (the municipal baths of Nisyros) is also a hotel.  Not much has changed except for a marina that was added. It is an elegant building, dignified in the simplicity of its 19th century Mediterranean style.  High ceilings, windows, and doors reveal the blue skyline of the Aegean every step of the way.  Wandering through brought back memories.  I remember some of us slept outside on the balcony on really hot nights, in our sleeping bags.  No padding, just hard floor (we were so young).

The Mira Mare night club

The Mira Mare night club

Our Classroom at the Loutra

Further along the road to Paloi is the “White Beach” where we did a lot of swimming.  It was a lovely white sand beach, nestled between two hills with a winding trail to follow from the road.  It was the kind of beach you would fantasize about, the sand was so white it made the water appear that unbelievable blue you expect to see in the Mediterranean.  Since it was between the villages of Mandraki and Paloi, not many people came there to swim and we usually had it all to ourselves.  At the time we were there, a Hotel was being built, so I did not expect to find our secret little beach to be the same.  I expected to see a lot of development, with chaise lounges, umbrellas and beachside bars like those seen on Kos and Rhodes.  However, I discovered quite the opposite. 

It was deserted (only three swimmers) and it is now a black sand beach.  It turns out that the white sand was artificial!  Above the beach they had been mining for pumice for many years, so the white sand was ground-up pumice.  The mining had actually stopped before we came to Nisyros in 84 and I guess, little by little, over the years, the white sand eroded away, but I had heard that the winter storms last year were especially harsh and that finished it off.  

It is now a black sand beach, mixed with stones, more typical of the beaches in Nisyros (the stones, not the black sand, which may be artificial as well).  Instead of a trail, there was a road leading to the beach that had collapsed in one area.  I remember the beach being a lot wider as well.  If I am right, than it has shrunk a great deal so there is maybe 20 feet from the water’s edge to the retaining wall of the hotel.  I think I remember it being more like 50 to 70 feet.  I kept thinking of that the poem “On the Hidden Seashore (Denial)” by George Seferis, I have the text in a book at home and the song on my ipod.  I wish I could post it here but don’t have that capacity with only my laptop and the speed of the internet café in Nisyros.  Maybe I can figure it out when I get home.  

classroom at Loutra.jpg

I wandered around the Hotel, which now sits empty.  I had heard that the owner sold it or went bankrupt.  I am not sure which.  It is a really nice looking hotel with lovely views and a patio dining area.  It is sad to see it looking like a ghost town. 

So the hotel never got a chance to spoil my memory.  Really nothing can take away the memory of our time here, not even the knowledge that it was built on something artificial, real as it was to us at the time.  When all is said and done however, I think I would rather see the beach chairs and umbrellas before me now.