The Sense of an Island

 Mick Conefrey|   | 

After two weeks the wind died down and suddenly our Greek island seemed completely different.

The Sense of an Island

We’re just back from Tinos in the Cyclades.  Like many Greek islands, the first thing that hits you, coming from England at least, is the intense blueness of the water coupled with the barrenness of the land. On Tinos this is amplified by the endless terracing that marks the landscape.

Once, this was considered rich agricultural land - by Greek island standards at least. Tinos had enough water to make farming a possibility. Local people hacked terraces in the steep hillsides and supported with miles and miles of stone walls; they grew olives, tomatoes, pomegranates and lemons. Today the terraces still mark the landscape, and you can still find olive trees and fig trees everywhere but it is rare to find much evidence of farming.

Today's Tinos is a holiday island, its prize assets are its beaches and its sun drenched hills. Compared to much of the Cyclades, it is relatively ‘un-spoilt’ by the internationalization of modern tourism. It still feels more Greek than nearby Mykonos, and though its summer population far outnumbers its winter residents, there are few large hotel developments.

The surprise for us was how windy it was. For almost two weeks it blew and blew. Towels went flying, sandy beaches were avoided for their exfoliating properties. The upside was that the nights were cool, the downside was water was occasionally very choppy and the off-shore breeze sometimes made swimming a little more nerve wracking than it might have been.

The much more dramatic downside, was the effect that meteorological conditions had on visibility. We had rented a house in the hills with a view of the coast. For the most of our stay though we could see little more than sea and a misty horizon. In the distance there was nearby Syros and as we drove around the island we could often see Mykonos on the horizon, but apart from those two, none of the other islands were visible.

Then, a few days before we left, the wind suddenly died down, the haze cleared and we could see into the far distance. Amazingly, a whole crop of islands seem to grow out of the sea- Delos, Paros,Naxos and the dark shadows of others beyond.  This had a profound effect on my sense of place.  Tinos was now not just an individual island, but part of a group, a lump of rock surrounded by water, belched up from the sea-bed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.The other islands in the distance acted as a sort of mirror, giving a sense of scale to Tinos that it was impossible to get otherwise.

From the beginning I’d been struck by the geology of Tinos. Granite, limestone, marble, huge rocks scattered over the hillsides, huge craggy outcrops in the middle. The revelation of the other islands confirmed this feeling of the ‘earthiness’ of this island, and the insignificance of all those centuries of human intervention. However impressive close up and however much work went into them in the past, the terraces and other marks that previous inhabitants had made on the landscape are insignificant in comparison to the much bigger geological processes that created  the island in the first place. 

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