The home­com­ings

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

From Page 1

Ly­ing in sight of the Dar­danelles, Lem­nos was a stag­ing post for the ill-fated Gal­lipoli land­ings of 1915. About 30,000 Al­lied sol­diers left the is­land in 200 war­ships; 4000 bro­ken Dig­gers re­turned in the weeks that fol­lowed to con­va­lesce and, too of­ten, to die.

I meet an­other Greek-Aus­tralian at the air­port. Stan Saran­tis, Lem­nos-born and Melbourne-based, re­turns each year with his wife, Tessi, to hon­our the An­zacs.

The next morn­ing, af­ter a spin around the at­trac­tive Cas­tro-crowned har­bour of My­rina, Stan takes me on a tour of the is­land’s prin­ci­pal sights.

Though mod­est and few, they in­clude a Bronze Age set­tle­ment built around the foun­da­tions of a civic meet­ing place. ‘‘ Europe’s first par­lia­ment,’’ boasts Stan. I’ve only one must-see re­quest: the cave of Philoctetes. A peer­less archer in Homer’s Iliad , Philoctetes is aban­doned by the Greek forces on Lem­nos with a sup­pu­rat­ing snake bite.

But as the Tro­jan war drags into its 10th year, a seer pre­dicts it can be won only with Philoctetes’s sa­cred shafts, one of which will fell the much-loathed Paris.

Stan is a hand­some man in his 60s with a head of hair as good as Bob Hawke’s and a great love of a cig­a­rette. He laughs softly as I strip down and plunge from the rocks into a sea whose cur­rents are fed by the snow-clad moun­tains of Thrace. It doesn’t so much chill the skin as numb it. The wounded archer’s sea cave turns out, pre­dictably, to be gloomy and cold and not a lot of fun. So I re­strict my­self to a bit of the­atri­cal bel­low­ing af­ter Philoctetes and am soon walk­ing back to the car with wet clothes and shiv­ery, salted skin.

Each year for the past decade, the peo­ple of Lem­nos have marked their own Anzac Day with a cer­e­mony held a month af­ter the mass ob­ser­vance at Anzac Cove. Few gather on Greek soil to hear the eu­lo­gies. Only a band of Greek-Aus­tralians, such as Stan and Tessi, and the rel­a­tives of those An­zacs buried in two mil­i­tary ceme­ter­ies hon­our the me­mory.

That night the lo­cals put on a splen­did feast for the pil­grims. My last­ing me­mory is of the roly-poly bishop, his grey hedge of beard reach­ing be­low the ta­ble, pluck­ing the eyes from the fish and leav­ing the flesh for oth­ers. He spends much of the evening dip­ping bat­tered zuc­chini into thick gar­licky aioli. I’m left pray­ing for his health.

A few weeks later I climb aboard a gulet in the Turk­ish port of Kas for the 20-minute cross­ing to the tiny Greek is­land of Kastel­lorizo, most east­erly of the Dode­canese. Once again I find my­self an ob­server with a front-row seat at the tragi­com­edy of ex­ile and re­turn.

A Perth wo­man with Kastel­lorizan roots is com­ing home. She plans to meet a rel­a­tive at the port, in its day one of the Mediter­ranean’s finest. But that was be­fore the Luft­waffe got to work, re­duc­ing it to a pile of ash.

Sent into ex­ile by the dev­as­ta­tion, many of the is­lan­ders came to Aus­tralia, made their small, and in some cases large, for­tunes and be­gan to keen for home. To­day about half the re­stored pas­tel man­sions on the bi­jou har­bourfront are owned by Kazz­ies.

‘‘ I’ve never seen this rel­a­tive,’’ ex­plains the Perth wo­man as our gulet shud­ders to a stop, her face set tight with an­tic­i­pa­tion. ‘‘ He’s from the Amer­i­can side of the fam­ily. But he’s promised to take us to the villa where Dad was born, to hand over the keys.’’

At the dock there is a ker­fuf­fle be­tween this Kazzie and a heavy-set Cus­toms of­fi­cial who points out that no­body can en­ter from Turkey at this edge-of-theGreek-world islet and hope to stay.

‘‘ But we were told at Rhodes . . .’’ is all I catch of her protest as I squeeze past on to the quay. Mend­ing their nets in the shade of a pas­sage­way are two fish­er­men. Their creased faces are straight out of Zorba ; their ac­cents straight out of Rich­mond.

I sit down to lunch at a har­bourfront restau­rant owned by an Aus­tralian wo­man and her Greek hus­band, whose mother rules the kitchen and much else be­sides. And as I take my first glass I no­tice the wo­man from the gulet dart by, un­shack­led from the Cus­toms of­fi­cial. She car­ries a heavy set of keys and wears a girl­ish grin as she plunges into the heart of old Kastel­lorizo in search of her past. The Curious Cook — Page 12

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