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My Valentine Was a Male Lesbian

The fact that it was Valentine’s Day escaped me.  Only looking back did I realize that I’d spent the afternoon with a local man, making him my default, although not romantic, male Lesbian Valentine.


Did you know that the term “Lesbian” originates from this island?  Prior to the late 1800’s, the term exclusively described anything originating from Lesvos a.k.a. Lesbos Island.  In the late 1800’s, a western writer connected one of the island’s most famous former residents, Sappho, a Greek lyric poet (600 BC) to her poetry about love for other women and ultimately this led to an intertwining of the island’s name with the concept of female love, much to the dismay of many original Lesbians, who have fought, unsuccessfully, for homosexual lesbians to change their name.


Coffee in Molyvos, Greece


Because he speaks no English, through a translator, a local shepherd tells me he is going to the mountains to tend his sheep.  I ask if I can come along.


Ten minutes later, I’m on the back of a motorbike, its plastic body held together by rope, sans helmet (few wear them here), traveling along a dirt track littered with sharp rocks and congested with sheep who have little respect for what humans call “roads”.  As we continue, wooly bodies of white and black part like a sea, allowing passage, and the tinkling bells around their necks make sweet mountain music.


We pass the graveyard of lifejackets and shanty houses with paddocks holding goats and deer, all destined for dinner plates.


Overlooking the graveyard of lifejackets

Overlooking the graveyard of lifejackets.


Arriving at the paddock which normally houses his sheep, he discovers they are gone, having jumped the fence.  Back on the bike again we move further into the mountains, the clouds moving faster than foamy ocean waves, creating a swirling, kinetic, aerial masterpiece.  The winds here on Lesvos, as I’ve mentioned, are epic, and hit your body like a solid wood board.  I hide my head behind his back as we continue.  Oreithyia, the Greek goddess of mountain winds, her name aptly translating to “the mountain rager”, accompanies us.  This is great, wild fun.


Arriving at a plateau, he points across a vast distance.  “Sheep”, he says.  At this moment, I recall the miraculous goat-spotting skills of Jurgo in Crete.  I see no sheep.  Calmly, and without English, he indicates I should wait.


Mountains above Molivos, Greece

Mountains above Molivos, Greece


He disappears into the ravine as swiftly as a goat and twenty minutes later I see him as a moving dot on the bottom of a distant mountain.  While waiting alone, I feel the romance of this land, it’s volcanic and craggy landscape shaped over millions of years and the home of poets like Sappho and philosophers like Aristotle.  I examine the spiky plants and the lichen of yellow and green which is inseparable from the ancient rocks beneath it.  Everything seems to cling on for a chance at life. The distant blue Aegean Sea meets the green shores of land like a mother, hugging it, from this vantage point.


Eventually, the distant dot is on top of the mountain and now I see the sheep, as tiny as ants, moving en masse down the mountain and towards his property miles away.  Because they won’t get home tonight, he won’t be able to milk them which is his typical twice a day activity.  I later learn that normally, after milking, he delivers the warm fresh product to the local farmer’s cooperative where the milk is immediately made into creamy, tangy feta cheese.


He returns to me after an hour-long hike down and up, down and up, and seems no worse for the wear.  I guess mammoth hikes are in a shepherd’s job description.  An American would have required $200 worth of hiking gear, two liters of water, a guidebook and walking poles to accomplish this trek.


Brush and lichen in the mountains.

Brush and lichen in the mountains.


We return to the paddocks to feed goats including the pregnant female that is kept in the barn.  Inside this dark place, with its aroma of wet straw and dirt, sunlight filters through a crack in the wall on the white mother-to-be.  Her belly juts to the sides and I see the kicks of tiny hoofs.  Her horns curl around her face like a fancy hairdo parted perfectly in the middle.


Finished with chores, he takes me to the nearby beach in the late afternoon, which changes one’s notion of a romantic “long walk on the beach”.  The beach is made of rocks and pebbles and littered with remnants of refugee boats and arrivals: a baby’s shoe, a lifejacket, a decaying wooden boat — its ribs exposed like a skeleton.  I can feel the suffering here.


Pregnant goat.

Pregnant goat.


Using pantomime, he tells me to dip my hand into the sea.  The water is as hot as coffee.  These hot springs have bubbled from below the sea since time immemorial, producing healing waters reputed to cure all ailments.  A white-domed building houses a pool of captured sea water for those who seek the cure, but, sadly, its doors are shut at this time of year.


Boulders covered in green moss face the Aegean and the coast of Turkey.  Gazing across the water to the forests on the other coast, I wonder who is waiting there to cross and what they must feel when looking at this same stretch of water in reverse.  In safety, I see only beauty.  For them, this sea is an obstacle which may swallow them up.  Over 400 people have drowned already this year.  And if they make it?  The journey to a life of safety is still fraught with dangerous obstacles and more closed borders every day.


The beach at Eftalou

The beach at Eftalou where the sea water is hot.


The late afternoon light paints everything with a supersaturated brush like an idyllic 1950’s postcard where lipstick is the reddest-red and trees are the greenest-green.  The sea turns electric blue, glowing.  A rainbow forms, stretching from the center of the watery graveyard to the shores of Lesvos.  Pure magic.


In Greek mythology, Iris is the goddess of the rainbow, the link between sea and sky and a link between the gods and humanity.  She is associated with messages and communication.  As the rainbow reaches full intensity, naturally, my camera battery dies.  Okay, I get one message — enjoy this fleeting moment, without trying to hold it.  I wish the spirits lost at sea could ride this rainbow to the shore they never reached.  Now more than ever, we need a link between the gods and humanity.  


It has all the makings of a perfect Valentine’s Day afternoon: adventure, a walk on the beach, a rainbow!  For a moment I forget about the sadness.


I am nearly swept away with the beauty of it all, were it not for the snorkeler, appearing twenty feet ahead in the water, searching for dead bodies.


Photos of Lesvos Island (click to view):


  1. This is such a beautifully written post. What an amazing experience all this must be!

    • Thanks Paula. Yes, it’s been amazing and full of surprises like this one.

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