Some would argue, and with good reason, that Greece is the birthplace of the savant. This is the nation that helped shape art, politics, philosophy and sports for the modern world. Over its rich history empires have risen and fallen, philosophers have pondered, artists have created and people have simply been.
“I hate the Greeks because they didn’t leave us anything to discover, just to develop.” – Nitzche
While most gravitate to the capital of Athens or one of the many popular islands like Santorini or Mykonos the bold traveler will look further for the simple pleasures of Grecian life, away from throngs of people snapping pictures and striking silly poses in front of iconic monuments. Luckily, just a short ferry ride southwest of Athens, the island of Poros offers this escape. If Athens is the place to be seen and heard then Poros is the place to relax, lay low and enjoy being alive, something many Athenians do from time to time.
When my friend Stacy and I would tell people we were visiting this island we’d often get the response, “Poros? Never heard of it. Are you sure it’s a real place?”. We’d laugh and give our assurances. Of course it was a real place, we Googled it and found a Wikipedia entry. It doesn’t get more legit than that.
However, when we arrived to the dock ready to be whisked away from Athens and I didn’t see our boat I began to wonder. None of the other tourists I spoke with were going to our destination, their vessels were ready and waiting to take them to more well-known islands.
As we waited patiently, and perhaps a little nervously, I joked with Stacy that we were going to be picked up in a tiny fishing boat and forced to catch our own dinner before arriving to a remote island where no one will ever see us again. And while that didn’t sound all that bad I was still curious as to what our next few days would hold on this island that no one had heard of.
“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is just opinion.” – Democritus
Our ferry did arrive eventually and upon my first glimpse of Poros my thought was, “Oh, it’s a real place alright. Real and wonderful.”One side of the main road boasts a wide sidewalk perfect for strolling along the water. Small fishing boats and not-so-small yachts bobbed side by side, the patrons of each chatting back and forth to each other.
As I walk along, I exchange pleasantries with a fisherman who is more than eager to boast about his beloved home to a stranger. As he repairs an old net, making a point to show me how he weaves the fabric just so, he exclaims in broken English how this island is the only place for him. When I say that I came for Athens he scoffs, “too busy,” he says. He proceeds to tell me that he goes to the “big city” once a year for supplies but never stays longer than necessary. He can’t wait to get back to his Poros. At that moment I can’t blame him.
“He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.” – Socrates
Opposite the docks are small restaurants and shops, the roads behind wind upward into the mountain causing houses to appear as if they are sitting atop one another.
The days here are lazy. While you may see a few people scattered along the beaches enjoying the warm breeze, the streets are pretty empty. At night, however, this seemingly sleepy island comes alive. The lights that are strung along the boardwalk begin to shine, music pours into the streets and people seem to appear out of nowhere. As I watch this scene unfold I wonder where the hell everyone has been all day. Preparing for the night, I suspect.
“The art of living well and the art of dying well are one”. – Epicurus
There seems to be no boundaries here, young and old mingle seamlessly. As Stacy and I drink on the patio of a local club we watch in awe as the tough-looking, heavily-tattooed bouncer tussles the hair of children as they walk past; exchanging friendly banter with each.
We are surprised to witness this dynamic where kids and adults are all engaged in conversation with one another, instead of everyone being annexed off to their designated age groups. No one seems to care that it’s past midnight on a weeknight. This isn’t a special privilege (as it would have been for me as a child) it’s just how life is here.
We decide to head back to our hotel around 2 a.m. well before anyone else seems ready to do so. A man asks us where why we are going so early and we reply we are tired. He doesn’t understand. “It’s still early,” he urges.
We split a cab with two young women, one is carrying a sleeping infant in her arms. Anywhere else that would have seemed odd and maybe even a little cruel but after experiencing a night here we don’t think much of it. We make an attempt at conversation but the language barrier seems too difficult to overcome at such an hour.
Later, I drift to sleep thinking how amazing it must be to grow up in such a place. The freedom and carefree attitudes I had just witnessed touching my soul. I wonder if the youth here realize how odd their lifestyle seems to some visitors or how wonderful it is. I assume however that they, just as everywhere else in the world, dream of the world beyond; hoping for bigger and better things in the big city of Athens.
“Youth is the best time to be rich, and the best time to be poor. – Euripides
I believe that an ocean breeze is the best cure for a hangover, that and a strong cup of coffee. I enjoy both of these the next morning at a sidewalk cafe across from the water’s edge. Once again, this small town of not even 4,000 inhabitants seems abandoned. I think back on the night before, how alive this very street had been.
At the table next to me a British guys strikes up a conversation. He is writing a book and chose Poros just because of days like this. He’s been here before and continues to return when he in need of uninterrupted inspiration. I immediately decide that this is also the place I’d choose to write the next great literary masterpiece. A place where the people are pleasant but have no interest in taking up your time because they are too interested in enjoying theirs.
“Time is a game played beautifully by children.” – Heraclitus
As I prepare to leave this island that no one had heard of, my phone dings and I get an email telling me that my flight from Athens to New York the next day has been cancelled due to weather. I was in no hurry to reschedule, happy to just stay in Poros and continue to soak in the sleepy days and spectacular nights. I get around to booking a new flight eventually.
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” – Aristotle
Note: This piece was originally published in the Winter 2013/2014 issue of Eidé Magazine.