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A Sweet and Simple Life in Molyvos: Lesvos Island, Greece

Downstairs, a lamb’s head simmers in a pot, the last remnant of Easter’s sacrifice. I sit at an open window with a sliver of a view of the Aegean Sea and an expansive view of the sky. The wind gusts and howls today and birds fly backward. Outside, cats howl and cry, making territories known and breaking my heart.

 

The clip-clop of donkey hooves on narrow cobblestone passageways gets louder. A man yells “Fresh Tomatoes, Lettuce, Onions!” to the residents of this hillside village, the sound of his voice warping in the wind.  He provides a vital service for the elderly who rarely make it down the steep hill for these Greek culinary essentials.

 

Molyvos, Greece
 

I am living with my love, Stelios, and his brother; two farmers who’ve lived their whole lives in this Greek village of fewer than 3000 people.  Neither speaks English.  So that’s not so easy.  I’m in the thick of it.  They speak to me in Greek as if I understand and surprisingly, I often do.

 

It’s kind of like an episode of the 70’s show Three’s Company, except Greek-style.  I must be Chrissy because I’m blonde, I rarely know what’s going on and often run in circles.  Stelios is the reasonable Jack.  And Stelios’ brother must be Janet because to an American outsider he seemingly overreacts, when, in fact, he’s just a normal passionate, dramatic Greek man with a loud voice.

 

Sunset at Molyvos Harbor

 

We live in an old stone house built during the Ottoman era.  The walls are two feet thick and inside the walls are painted flat white, repainted every year because of the staining from the woodstove and the regular frying of food in olive oil.  It’s a solid structure, well-settled on the side of a hill.  There is little furniture.  There are no closets stuffed with forgotten things.  There is no three-car garage, no dishwasher, no carpet to vacuum and no lawn to mow. It’s rustic, simple and beautiful.

 

There is one alarm clock in the house and no calendar.  Chores and appointments are remembered the old-fashioned way and the time of day is determined by the light.

 

The Molyvos Coast
 

The Castle of Molyvos is nearly on top of us, so much so that I’ve considered the possibility of its massive stones killing us in the event of an earthquake.  Did you know that Greece is the most seismically active country in Europe?  I’ve only felt one earthquake while here, although the area is in a constant tremble.

 

Every day, our neighbor practices the lyre at an open window.  This music is often the backdrop to my writing or household chores. These same notes, which drift through sea air, were played here by ancient Sappho, considered one of the great lyric poets of her day, meaning she recited poetry accompanied by a lyre.  In modern terms, she’d be considered a singer/songwriter.  Many great artists, both ancient and modern, have found a home in Molyvos over the last 5000 years.

 

Speaking of art, I spent some time here learning a bit about watercolor painting. After three sessions I completed a small picture that I half-way liked and must have unconsciously decided to quit while I was ahead because I subsequently lost all interest.  Instead, I poured my creative energies into this website, doing all kinds of work behind the scenes to make it run more efficiently.  With over 300 posts now, some housekeeping was in order.

 

Watercolor painiting

 

There is a wooden chair in my bedroom.  A beetle lives inside it.  He goes “munch, munch, munch” all night long, eating the chair from inside like it’s a Thanksgiving feast.  Initially, I’m horrified that he might come out of his bored hole, but I get used to his presence and eventually look forward to his eating, considering him my perpetually hungry pet.  We also get a hedgehog visitor in the bathroom one night.  Still wild in so many ways, Molyvos has a good share of interesting animals that occasionally make an appearance.

 

My neighborhood “supermarket”, which by American standards is a corner store, contains not only food but precious locals. The owner’s elderly mother sits behind the register and smiles at me sweetly while she intricately crochets thread into a lace tablecloth.  I speak to her in my broken Greek and she understands me!  A triumph. Throughout town, it’s the really old ladies who talk to me. Walking one day, a pocket-sized elderly woman grabbed my hand to look for a ring, and asked if was married, hoping no doubt, to marry off a son in a village where the available female population is quite limited.

 

Nearly everything is difficult here by American standards.  For example, when something large needs to be disposed of, the job requires a horse to move the objects off this stony hill because most streets are too narrow and steep for cars.  Living on this hill is not an easy place to be for anyone who isn’t super healthy and capable of walking stairs constantly.

 

The "dump truck"

Hauling garbage off the hill.

 

My first few days on Lesvos are spent taking walks by the ocean, helping Stellios make fresh sheep’s milk feta cheese and yogurt, and reacquainting myself with the village that is very much asleep. Unlike last year, when volunteers kept stores open, this year nearly everything is shut for the winter much like in Croatia. It feels like I’m the only tourist in town.

 

Making sheep's milk feta

Making Sheep’s Milk Feta Cheese

 

In March, the rain and cold are omnipresent.  Sometimes, I stay inside for days, unwilling to venture out in the bad weather. These days feel good and I am gleeful to feel “at home” if not a bit at loose ends as to my purpose.

 

Happy to have a home to cook in, I find my niche in making soup and making beans. I make pot after pot of white beans with onions, lemon juice, salt, fresh rosemary, and olive oil.  After a two-week consecutive run of bean making, the men protest by not eating them anymore and my bean-making days are suspended until further notice.

 

Typical lunch

Typical lunch at home: Fried fish, Olives, French fries, beans, and salad.

 

I spend some time doing housework out of gratitude, not obligation, and am astounded by the amount of laundry two farmers can create.  One of the few modern appliances in the house, a washing machine, makes my work easy, but I reflect on the amount of work Stelios’ late mother must have had in keeping four men in clean clothes with nothing but a scrub board.  The laundry is hung in the courtyard. I relish these simple tasks — hanging the fresh laundry while seagulls squawk and the sun shines.

 

When Stelios isn’t working, we watch Little House on the Prairie.  Oddly enough, this is one thing we have in common.  We both watched the show religiously as children.  Now, I’m trying to learn Greek watching Laura Ingalls converse with Pa in the dubbed language.

 

Wildflowers on the beach in Eftalou.

Wildflowers on the beach in Eftalou.

 

Afterward, we often watch the news together.  Greek newscasts are the most dramatic I’ve seen anywhere in the world.  Clips are liberally sprinkled with jarring cinematic music which adds tremendous weight and suspense.  These days, one of the big topics is the continuous violation of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets, flying over the Greek islands with regularity to intimidate and provoke the Greeks, who so far have not retaliated.  It’s known that Turkey wants some of their land back, the land they lost during the fall of the Ottoman Empire.  That includes Lesvos and other Greek Islands.  This is a dangerous game of intimidation.

 

Sheep carcass on the beach

Sheep carcass on the beach

 

During the day I sometimes go with Stellios to move his horses to new pastures.  He grabs young green almonds off trees and eats them like candy.  They are crunchy and sour.  In the evenings, I help Stelios with his English with flashcard lessons at the kitchen table and a wood stove keeping us toasty.

 

The days are so fleeting, I don’t know where they go.  So quickly, it’s April, and the magnificent Wisteria appears.

 

One day, we visit a farmer who lives in the mountains with his multitude of horses, sheep, cats and dogs. His hands are weathered and leathery. His eyes are bloodshot from the sun.  Like all men in Molyvos, he rides his horse side-saddle which looks peculiar but is a unique adaptation to this area. With such steep hills, it’s safer to ride this way than to possibly be propelled forward and over the horse’s head.

 

Men in Molyvos ride side saddle.

Men in Molyvos ride side-saddle.

 

As Easter approaches, I notice the energy of the village is picking up. Still, most places remain closed until after the holiday, but there is a smattering of tourists, mostly from Turkey, which is a quick ferry ride away if you’re not a refugee.

 

Easter is a serious affair in Greece where only the Greek Orthodox religion is practiced.  Holy week means daily church services for many.  I attend inadvertently because the church sits right above the house.  Outside speakers ensure that the village is bathed in the droning singing of the “papas” for hours at a time.  As an outsider, it sounds extremely sad — auditorily devoid of joy in song or speech.  Of course, I don’t understand the words.

 

Easter affects me only in that our favorite game show is not shown during the week and it is forbidden for Stelios to eat eggs and meat.  I’m back in the bean-making saddle!

 

Baked feta

Baked feta is my favorite dish when we dine out.

 

The night before Easter Sunday everyone attends church, bringing a candle with them which they light from a candle, that was lit by a candle, that was lit by a candle… supposedly all the way back to a candle at the Church of the Holy Grave in Jerusalem.  The lit candles are returned to homes as a blessing.

 

While Stelios attends the service, I, being terrified, go above the church to witness what I know is coming, because I saw it in Santorini; an explosion of home-made fireworks to celebrate the moment that “Christos Anesti” or “Christ has Risen”.  From my perch at the castle, fireworks rain down far too close for my comfort.  I would have died of fright had I been inside the church with everyone else.

 

 

Returning to the house, we sit for dinner at midnight. A cloth tablecloth makes its first appearance and the men dine on a traditional Magiritsa soup made from lamb organs and scraps.  I opt for the vegetarian-friendly and non-traditional pita and hummus with salad.

 

Traditional Magiritsa soup for Easter

Traditional Magiritsa soup for Easter

 

As April moves on the weather gets nicer and we spend more time on walks.  Our walks have proved profitable — I’ve had good luck finding money, a total of three 2 euro coins and one 50 euro bill, which was a huge boon and very exciting for both of us.

 

Beach walks, especially in the neighboring Eftalou, provide more rock hunting than one person can handle. I find unusual rocks and minerals and lots of quartz.  In the sun, many rocks dazzle with crystals in their nooks and crannies. I’ve collected enough rocks to build a structure, regularly returning to the house like a kangaroo, my pouch stuffed.

 

So many beautiful rocks!

So many beautiful rocks in Eftalou!

 

After Easter, it’s a different village. The restaurants and stores have opened, the weather is consistently pleasant and hopefulness is in the air.  This year, the villagers pray, must be better than last.  This year the tourists must come back.

 

Wildflowers, the most I’ve ever seen, seem intent to spread their beauty and cheer over the village.

 

Wildflowers in Molyvos

Wildflowers in Molyvos

 

It’s a sweet and simple life here in Molyvos, with so much to enjoy.

 

Photos of Life in Molyvos:

 

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10 Comments

  1. Stella does lots of water color with her Grumpaw. I’m sure she’d jump st the chance to paint with you too. Being you two are soull sisters I already know you would leap at the chance to
    paint with her too. Love you sweet one. Hugs.

    • I would love to paint with Stella. I’m sure she could teach me some technique.

  2. This was wonderful reading…thank you! Thinking of you and living vicariously through your travels! Next year for me…due to your influence!

    • Thanks so much Mickey. It’s comments like yours that keep me writing even when I don’t want to. Inspiring others to travel more and push their own personal envelope is my goal and your comment is my best reward.

  3. Loved this post, Laura. So full of joy, simplicity, and love! And, a Greek lover? I’m a tinge green….

    • Thank you Karen. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  4. I really enjoyed this post Laura. Super interesting! And incidentally – your painting is beautiful.

    • Many thanks Cecelia. I’m
      Glad it was enjoyable.

  5. Such a beautiful portrayal of your time in Molyvos. Thank you Laura!

    • Thank you Kim. I hope you’ll get back here yourself soon.

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