I was born in the town of Chios, in fifty-four; we moved to Athens in sixty-six. Up until then, we had been staying in the town residence, spending our summers (up until September) here, in Agios Yiannis. My father would move back and forth from Athens, taking care of both his political and business commitments (he ran an import agency). My grandfather, my father’s father, was into trade, mostly citrus exports to the Black Sea countries. The packaging plant was located on the seafront street, where the rice paper wrapped mandarins got packed. The packages would bear not only grandpa’s company logo but little watercolor paints depicting heroes and places from the countries they visited. That was his main occupation; at some point, he also purchased some small boats for carrying the citrus fruits and other goods. Our father took over grandpa’s business during the pre-war years, mainly traveling to exporting countries. His brother was involved in the production process, as he owned the orchards in Kambos. In the post-war years, trade was terminated.
Nikos, Markella’s brother, steps in: Following the war, the markets in Russia and the other eastern countries closed due to the communist states being established; he carried on trading with Germany, but this accounted for a fraction of the pre-war exports; our grandfather would buy oranges from Sparti and Cyprus to export them. In the sixties, exports ceased for good, since they wouldn’t turn profit anymore. Prior to that, every single orchard used to render one to two golden crowns to its owner.
Markella takes over now: My mother’s father was Dimitrios Karamaounas, owner of the tanneries processing sole leathers. That smell cannot be easily wiped off my memory.
What matters the most when the names of my family, my parents or my grandparents come up is that they were good people, decent people in everything they did for the community. After all, honors and money just come and go.
My father acquired this particular house in forty-seven; a hunting fanatic, he would go to southern as well as northen Chios, so a place close to his hunting grounds was just what he needed – he liked this area a lot. In early years, they would get here from the town on a fishing boat, carrying all the basic foodstuff in hefty quantities: flour, sugar, rice… They also had poultry, a sheep for the baby’s milk and a boat for my dad to go fishing on. Then, the road from Vouno was constructed, so they would get into a small, all-terain little SUV he had to get here.
The house is one hundred years old and its orientation is almost ideal. It was built around 1920 by someone hailing from Vouno and residing in Egypt; at some point, he returned to Chios, he owned those plots down there, he was a passionate hunter, a bird catcher as he had been dubbed, that is he would snare birds with lime twigs. Every material going into building this house – apart from the rocks, which were collected from nearby areas – was carried on fishing boats. Considering its era, it was pretty well-made, featuring an actual shower and neat tiles. When my father bought it, the only alterations he came up with were extending this balcony, putting up one in the back and having tiles laid. During the restoration, a mason carved an inscription on this veranda wall – it’s barely visible now: “You are the only one deserving this residence, you, the pride of this island, in every sense of the word, Nikolis Misirlis (date)”.
I have fond memories of my childhood on Chios, this used to be my summer paradise, I always had the greatest time, being a bit of a tomboy, you know, running around in the yard and the plots, climbing up trees and such. Back here, in someone else’s property, there was a beautiful fig tree, a huge one; I would climb up pretending to be sailing a pirate ship with the branches being the masts, there was also a trough full with water and butterflies. We went swimming both in the morning and the afternoon, either in Viri or in Agios Yiannis; there used to be a trail, I was around when the road to Komi was being constructed – I can still remember the blasts that tore the rocks apart. When the sun set and it got cooler, we would frequently walk to the hill opposite our house, where there was a shed like the ones used by mastic growers.
The facilities here were extremely well organized. It wasn’t until the late seventies that electricity came here. Up until then, dad would drive to the town every other day to get icicles from the icehouse. Downstairs, we kept a large commercial refrigerator stuffed with icicles and capable of preserving big amounts of food, while upstairs, there was a small fridge, one of those ones with those tiny water dispensers. We had a big camping flashlight in the living room, another one in the balcony and the kitchen, while we also kept some glass oil lamps in the bedrooms. We had an ice cream maker, a wooden tube with an iron cylinder in the middle, in which we threw the ingredients – milk, sugar, fruits, chocolate –, then put ice shreds and turn it over and over again manually until it churned; it took time but the homemade ice cream was just fantastic. There was a fountana, a huge rainwater storage tank the size of a room. Still, the water had to climb up to the tanks and then flow downwards to the showers and the kitchen, so a hand pump was installed to send water all the way up to the roof. That meant that not only children and adults would line up to pull a hundred pumpings each, but even guests would be involved! Let’s take you for example; if my father were around, he would come out on the balcony and say: “Hey, Yiannis, why don’t you come up and pump a little?”; it was a typical chore for every guest.
Not a year has gone by that I haven’t visited this place – apart from 1974, when the Turks invaded Cyprus and the army had requisitioned our house. I’ve dubbed the house “my nest”; whenever I get here, I feel like a birdie returning to its nest after having flown to some distant lands. My parents were always very welcoming and affectionate, and the house was unceasingly accommodating to friends and acquaintances as well as villagers from all around. We would stay here a lot; I would put up friends from Athens, and to those city dwellers, this was a whole new fantasy world. This house would also cater to our evening amusement needs: we used a battery operated record player when we threw parties, and at times, we would invite friends from Komi and the town to them. Our parents never told us not to have friends over, not to make a mess or keep it down. This house has always oozed a welcoming feeling, joy and pleasure, you can feel that vibe once you step in. Many a people have been here, high-profile or no profile, and despite our fair share of mishaps and ailments, as is the case with every household, this residence gives off a positive aura. The late Mimis Chandris – it’s the fortieth anniversary of his death this year – had a bedroom here; he was an avid hunter, so he would spend at least one week here during hunting season. My father died aged ninety-four; even a few years before his death, he strolled around with his riffle on his back, always abiding by hunting laws and restrictions.
August the twenty-ninth, the Saint’s celebration day, is a big day for the area and the church. We always attended the service, while lots of people from nearby villages also flocked here. Since back then motor vehicles were in short supply, people got here on donkeys, and the fields would echo with their brayings.
I adore the time when bee-eaters fly over; they’re migratory birds, their singing really sets them apart. They fly past here in early September, heading south; they’re beautiful birds, looking like little parrots; when they sit on the electricity wires, I talk to them from the balcony: “Welcome, bon voyage and I hope to see you again next year” – this is a very special moment for me, one I always look forward to while relaxing here.
The greatest gift for me, considering I’ve been living here, having grown up in a city, is being able to directly interact with nature, the changing weather patterns, the colors varying as the seasons alternate, the smells, the mastic running down the trunks around the house, the nocturnal sounds coming from animals, serpents, mice as I sit on the balcony – sounds being emitted by virtually every possible creature, which, to me, is entitled to consider this place home. I’ve learnt to love as well as respect and comprehend nature, the cycle of nature, of life, of time; I feel perfectly balanced here.
After meeting Markella in her residence in Agios Yiannis in mid August, I paid a second visit there a couple of days later for a photo shoot. Beba, her dog, would never leave her side. “I named her Beba after my mom, who died in two thousand nine, aged ninety-seven. In August twenty twelve, Bianca, the puppy I had back then, got hit and killed by a car in front of me at the age of three. I was a mess, crying my eyes out at home for three days, so when a friend got me this one a month later, telling me it looks exactly like Bianca, I decided to call her Beba, hoping she would make it to a ripe old age, just like my mom did”. On my way out, I asked Markella what her take is on the future of the house: “Its future is my nieces, who love the island and the house as much as we do.”
Translated into English by Nikos Loutraris