This past week, with what the Greeks call "the crisis" intensified, with the protestors in Thessaloniki saying "NO!" to the military parade celebrating "Oxi Day," I got to thinking about this little tractate, "The Ruins of Mega Livadi," that I wrote several years ago, when people were optimistic about the economy. Mega Livadi was the site of the 1916 Miners' Strike, a response to the terrible working conditions in the iron ore mines. Four miners were murdered for protesting and demanding an eight-hour work day. The 1916 Miners' Strike was one of the defining moments in the Greek Labor Movement and marks its inception.
The Ruins of Mega Livadi
|Port of Mega Livadi|
In Mega Livadi a donkey lies in the shade of the town’s ancient plane tree. Geese honk. Hens and their chicks peck in the dust near a few cars parked in the shade. Ruined houses where miners once lived dot steep hill plunging in the port, a good port, sheltered and so deep the waters already extraordinary blue approaches black. The neo-classical villa, built by the German mine-owners decays. Patches of stucco fall away. There’s no glass in the long, elegant windows or in transoms above heavy wooden doors, though the palm trees flanking the wind entry are tall and healthy (the word for palm is phoenika, phoenix).
|Villa can seen on the left.|
The village is quiet. Maybe there are twenty of us here. Some eating, some swimming, some fishing, some sitting with friends observing the summer day. On the terraces of the two beachfront tavernas people sit, sip ouzo and gossip. Old women wear black dresses and white headscarves. One still wears the traditional stiff sunbonnet, cardboard covered with calico. Blue, red, and yellow plastic chairs glare against whitewash while painted boats on the sea or banked on the beach upside-down under trees radiate their oranges and turquoises. Children playing in the shallow water call out to their siblings and cousins, “Come play!”—to grandmother, aunt, and mother, “Look! Look!”
|Painting by Aliki|
The iron-ore mine gapes huge in the hillside of blooming euphorbia and yarrow; beside it a slagheap tumbles into the sea. The old technology rusts—tracks, carts lying on their sides, their wheels sometimes a few feet away, the cantilevered loading bridge reaching the port where no freight ship or ferry has docked in years.
Before the iron-ore mines in Mega Livadi closed, twenty-five thousand people lived on Serifos. Now there are eight-hundred year-round residents, though in summer, on the other side of the island, Livadi, the harbor village, and Hora, the mountain village above it, are packed with near-naked Athenians and Europeans eating, drinking, swimming, sleeping in the sand, wandering the maze of flagstone streets. So in a country where they say everything happens late, new hotels and restaurants go up rapidly and cover the austere mountains.
Imagine it. When the ferry arrives, a mini-van stenciled with HOTEL MEGA LIVADI waits to take you to the newly renovated villa where each room has a bath, a phone, and a refrigerator. You walk ten steps to the beach. You explore the old mine shafts and dig crystals from the walls. You hike high, well-marked paths by the sea, pay a small fee, enter the restored springhouse, soak in warm curative waters, then cool off in the sea. You meet the same woman we met today, a smiling woman wearing a flying-nun sunbonnet and herding her goats over ruined railroad tracks. She calls out, “Kalimera!” (good day!). She asks questions and approves each of the answers you give in faltering Greek with “Bravo!” She wishes you a good road and a good trip, then climbs to high rock to watch her herd and look out to sea, same as the ancients.
|Painting by Aliki|