Greek Isles

by sir Taki Theodoracopulos

I’ve been looking at cows from my bedroom window since two months, and although their bovine gaze betrays more intelligence than those of their farmer-owners, I’m sick and tired of all of them. I need blue skies and wine-dark seas, as described by my direct ancestor Homer, good old Helvetia can be fun during the winter months, but come Spring and Summer only Julie Andrews likes the sound of the Alps.

So the Isles of Greece it is the Ionian ones, where the Taki family derives from, and where the hated Turk’s footprints can only be discerned using a powerful microscope. As everyone except students specializing in female and black studies in American universities knows, Ithaca was the kingdom where Penelope knitted for twenty long years, keeping the suitors at arms length while waiting for her husband to return from the Trojan War. Ithaca was almost uninhabited when the Republic of Venice took over the Ionian Islands around 1350 or so. The Fall of Byzantium in May 1453 saw mainland Greece go under the yoke of the Sultan for 400 long years. Not so with the Ionian Islands.

The Seven Isles came and remained under the influence of Venice, the Doges acting as benevolent rulers, allowing the Greeks to practice their Orthodox Christianity although many took up Catholicism as a result. There was no coercion – some of my family were raised Catholic – hence the islands enjoyed a renaissance the rest of Greece did not. Napoleon did away with the Republic and the Ionian isles came under the French, but only for a few years. Then the British arrived, staking out cricket pitches in the middle of Corfu town, introducing teas and polite conversations instead of rowdy and loud political arguments, and re-inventing homosexual practices that had lay dormant since classical times.

In 1864, when Prince George, aged only seventeen came from Denmark to take up the Greek throne, the British government handed over the Ionian Islands to Greece as the new king’s dowry. Then something funny happened. Venetian titles were abolished by the Greek constitution, declaring that in view of the fact that all Greeks were noble, titles were redundant. Seeing some of these “nobles” from the mainland for the first time, a great grandfather of mine whose Venetian title had gone with the wind was known to have raised an eyebrow more than once.

But enough said about the past, although writing about Greece and not mentioning past history is like alluding to the president of Olympiakos and not using the word vulgar. Prince Philip was of course born on a kitchen table in Corfu, his father Prince Andrew of Greece almost coming to a bad end following the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922. (Six politicians were shot at dawn, the Brits insisting that Philip’s father be allowed to “escape.” Corfu I used to visit annually but only by boat. Tourism has not been kind to Corfu, a beautiful lush island when the Durrells first visited in the Thirties, but tourism does it every time, deprive it of its charm and uniqueness.

The last time I was there, I had dinner at Jacob Rothschild’s house, a beautiful place high above the seafront with its own port, when in a moment of Shylockian greed I agreed to charter my boat for one week to Nate Rothschild, his son, eager at the time to get away from his old man on my beautiful sailboat. When I got back on her I found a note in my cabin. It read something like this: Had someone told me that I would be spending nights in Taki’s bed I would have wagered everything I own against it. But I’ve had four wonderful evenings in his bed. Signed Peter Mandelson. (A Tony Blair minister and a supposed great enemy of mine.)

South of Corfu, lie Paxos and anti-Paxos, two of the most charming islands because they have stayed small and totally unspoiled. About ten years ago, having come close to an AntiPaxos bay with my boat and then swum ashore, I was approached by two Italian ladies of a certain age and told in no uncertain terms in extraordinarily upper-class accents not to anchor so close because boats draw other boats and soon the bay will be like St. Tropez. I agreed and signaled to the captain to distance himself and Bushido.

Further south lies my favorite island Cephalonia. Cephalonia is green all over, hilly, and its people simply wonderful and welcoming. I sail up to Fitzcardo, a northern anchorage and dine away in tavernas on the water that serve the best fish and the finest Greek wines. There are nearby hills to walk up for exercise, very green and full of wildflowers, and wonderful bays to swim in. Assos beach has water that makes anything the West Indies brag about look like New York’s east river.

Almost connected with Cephalonia in the south is the Taki clan island of Zante, or Zakynthos in Greek. My earliest souvenirs of the place were dropping anchor in the main port and hearing Mozart played by an orchestra in the main square. Zante had the oldest families and the most beautiful Venetian architecture of any of the isles – and the most beautiful cantatas – all now gone. The 1953 earthquake devastated the island and the modernists rebuilt it in their own hideous manner. The place now looks like an old woman whose reconstructed face is hideously scarred by plastic surgery. It was a magical island of graceful manners and romance, now a tourist trap but with unequaled beaches and among the old folks there are still some wonderful manners and courtesies. I no longer sail there because I find it too painful. I had had a glimpse in 1953 and wish to stay with those memories.

My least favorite island used to be my favorite, Mykonos. Once upon a time was the best party island in the world. Now, is overrun by patchouli-scented grab-drag artists and it is very expensive. But things change.

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