August 18, 2010
The idea of being cooped up on a boat with nowhere to go, at the mercy of a princess, an aging playboy, and his equally virile son made me hesitant. Apart from the time we spend together over Christmas, we haven”t been on a family holiday in twenty years. For the most part, the four of us get along well. Even so, I was expecting the worst. For a moment, it looked like it might be the shortest holiday ever. After the requisite blow out, it has been nothing but smooth sailing.
Floating around the Peloponnese aboard Bushido, my father’s pride and joy, is a dream. We prefer sailing to motoring. Drifting along with nothing but the sound of wind is a true pleasure compared to roughing it on a high speed gas guzzler. But glitzy upstarts go for that sort of thing, which is a shame. Without them, the world would be a quieter, cleaner and more beautiful place. Nevertheless, my grandfather had one towards the end of his life. I suppose after a life spent under sail he was in more of a hurry to get to his beloved islands. As children we used to accompany him to Spetses, Aegina, Hydra, and Zakynthos, from where my ancestors came.
Back then, in the 70s and 80s, there was minimal development and tourism. Greece was wild, and mostly unspoiled. Soon the spending free-for-all started, and has slowly but surely torpedoed the great Olive Republic. Kifisia, a suburb of Athens, where I spent the summers of my youth, and where my father grew up, has been finished by construction, gentrification, and bad taste. I fear for places like Gstaad, and Patmos, if they go the same way as Kifisia, or Porto Heli for that matter. Attention! Greedy Developers!
Sadly, more beautiful places have been ruined by unbridled development and tourism than anything else. I go on about it because the effects of greed and popularity are virtually irreversible. Think of the CÃ´te d’Azur, and resorts like St. Tropez or Monte Carlo, which were among the most beautiful on earth. As the great F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote about Antibes in Tender is the Night, it was “the only place in the whole wide world that’s touched by magic.” These days during the summer months the South of France is a sweaty hell hole, what with all the mega yachts, working girls, and wealthy barbarians.
For the most part, these types stay away from Greece. Unfortunately, there are package tourists in Mykonos and the like, although they can be easily avoided. On our boat we find a new cove every day free of other vessels, other people, and horrible jelly fish. The water is relatively clean. The worst you get is a beach strewn with plastic, and fat hairy Greeks who pilot their boats around recklessly. In old Spetses the Figaro nightclub is still around after more than thirty years. I can tell you it beats the hell out of Les Caves du Roi, and still has the feeling it had back then of a third world watering hole. My brother and I used to go with our parents. It was a family place, still is. I hope it doesn”t change. I can”t think of anything worse than Spetses becoming a cheap pick-up joint like St.Tropez.
A few days spent in the Dodecanese with my brother and some friends, and life seems perfect. No headlines, no package tours, no ugly people. It was the summer of love all over again. We each fell for someone new every day, swam for hours under the hot sun, and danced until dawn with the best looking and most refined Italians there are. Everyone was beautiful, sun-tanned, and happy not to be surrounded by vulgarians. But, the islands seem in danger of going the way of the South of France. Every year there are a few more big motor boats around, and more hungry arrivistes. Lets just hope the many of us who love the few unspoiled places left succeed in maintaining their charms before everything goes the way of the French Riviera.